The Adversary (DS9 S3E26)

As a season finale, The Adversary seems a bit underwhelming. At this time last season we’d just been introduced to the Dominion via the Jem’Hadar, and our crew ended S2 hunkering down and preparing for the onslaught they knew would be coming. Since then we’ve discovered that the Founders of the Dominion are changelings like Odo, and that our constable feels a pull to return to the Great Link that binds his people. We’ve also seen the Dominion manipulate and wipe out the Romulan and Cardassian fleets in preparation for war, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that the third season finale might pick up that thread.
 
But The Adversary moves the ongoing plot forward only slightly, at least on the surface. It’s a locked-room action hour with implications that only become clear at the end, and on the whole it feels like something that could have slotted into any position in the season. I certainly don’t intend here to disparage locked-room action hours, because this is a pretty good one, our crew trapped inside the Defiant with a Founder who can look like any of them. It just feels slighter than it probably should.
 
We begin with a promotion – Commander Sisko is now Captain Sisko, with a fourth pip on his collar. The whole gang is there, including Security Officer Eddington, whose entire role in this episode is to play red herring. He’s been around a while, but in the background, and this story conspicuously gives him a lot more to do, which is suspicious right away. More suspiciously, he is chosen to be part of Sisko’s first mission as captain: to calm down unrest on the planet of the Tzenkethi, an alien race we have never heard of.
 
So Sisko and his team of forty-seven – including Kira, O’Brien, Dax, Bashir, Eddington and Admiral Krajensky, who sent them on this mission in the first place – head out in the Defiant. But it isn’t long before they discover that things are not what they seem. The ship is infested with organic-looking machines that take control of all of the systems, arming weapons and hurtling toward the Tzenkethi homeworld, and just as soon as the crew starts to suspect something, Krajensky reveals himself as a changeling. So now they have an enemy who can look like anyone and squeeze through any opening, and they’re on a ship that is on a war heading with the Tzenkethi, with no way to stop it.
 
The cat-and-mouse game that follows is fun, especially the sequence in which the changeling, disguised as Bashir, takes blood samples from each of the crew and tries to frame Eddington. He’s an effective red herring – I thought, for just a moment, that he might also be a changeling spy – but any lingering suspicions are dashed quickly. Sisko and Kira initiate the self-destruct sequence to save the Tzenkethi and prevent a war, but it is Odo who finishes things, fighting hand to hand with the changeling and finally killing him.
 
And this, as I am sure you’ve figured out, is where things get significant. No changeling has ever harmed another, as we are repeatedly reminded. So now Odo has crossed a line that his people hold sacred, and I’m sure there will be repercussions. More than that, before the changeling dies, he tells Odo that his people are everywhere, possibly disguised as anyone. It’s chilling, and I’m sure it chills Odo even more now that he has killed one of his own. Retribiution could come from anywhere.
 
And that’s how it ends. I’m invested in this ongoing story, but I’m not sure that The Adversary, all by itself, would fill me with an unquenchable need to watch season four. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, and I understand the long-term ripple effect it will likely have. But as a season finale, it doesn’t bring the business the way I expected it would. Maybe that’s me, and I should temper my expectations. But Star Trek has met them on more than one occasion. The Adversary is fine, but if I had to wait three months for the next installment, I would have wanted more from this one. 
 
Random stuff:
 
This is the last time that Siddig El Fadil will be credited under that name for playing Julian Bashir. He’ll be Alexander Siddig starting with the next episode, although he will use his real name for directing credits.
 
Apparently the big morph-y fistfight near the end of this episode was extremely difficult to shoot. Rene Auberjonois and guest actor Lawrence Pressman each had to film the fight separately, matching each other’s movements perfectly, to allow for the morphing effect.
 
Finally I have finished season three! I started it on May 11, so it’s taken more than two months to get through it, with all the life breaks I have been taking. Thanks for your patience, everyone. I expect season four will go a lot more quickly.
 
Tomorrow, Worf arrives to shake up DS9 as season four begins with The Way of the Warrior. Onward!
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Facets (DS9 S3E25)

Facets is an intermittently fascinating deep dive into the past lives of Jadzia Dax, complete with some interesting revelations about her previous incarnations and their impact on her. There are a number of clever ideas here, and they show up with such regularity that you barely notice that none of them are well developed, and the episode ends without much having happened. It’s an enjoyable interlude regardless, but it ends up feeling all over the place.
 
The central idea of this story is a Trill ritual called the zhian’tara. This ritual allows a current host to meet and interact with the previous hosts, to learn more about the lives that led to their memories. The actual purpose is never really made clear – it’s just accepted on its face that this is an important rite of passage for Trills, which makes it somewhat odd that Jadzia has been avoiding returning to her homeworld to undergo hers. As this episode begins, the Trill Symbiosis Commission has had enough of her evasiveness, and they send a guardian to perform the zhian’tara aboard Deep Space Nine.
 
The guardian uses some nonsense magic to transfer the essences of Dax’s previous hosts into the seven people she trusts the most. That list includes Sisko, Bashir, Odo, Quark, Kira, O’Brien and, for some reason, Leeta. You remember Leeta, right? Bajoran Dabo girl who showed up for like 30 seconds in Explorers? Apparently she and Jadzia have become close off screen, because here she is. Anyway, one by one, each of these seven people is inhabited by a former Dax, and Jadzia gets to speak to each one.
 
Which of course means our cast members get to stretch out and play other characters for a few minutes. Nana Visitor impresses (as always) as Lela, the first Dax, and Jadzia learns from her where she picked up the habit of clasping her hands behind her back. (Seriously, Visitor transforms here. It’s a strong performance.) Colm Meaney takes on Tobin, whom we’ve heard about before – Jadzia described him as having “barely a sex life and no imagination,” and that’s Meaney’s jumping-off point. Leeta gets Emory, the gymnast, and that’s about all we learn about Emory. But Chase Masterson gets to show off her flexibility.
 
I did very much enjoy seeing Quark take on Audrid, one of Dax’s female hosts, and Armin Shimerman played Quark’s slight revulsion perfectly. Bashir gets Torias, the thrill-seeking pilot who died young in an accident. And as we learned in Equilibrium, though Jadzia thought that Curzon was her next host, that wasn’t true. Her next host was Joran, a murderer who was unsuitable, but still capable of joining with the symbiont. Sisko takes Joran, and Avery Brooks brings out his dark and moody side, playing with Jadzia’s head by confirming her fears that she was never good enough and does not deserve to be joined.
 
I expected we would get more from Joran, but the episode isn’t interested in him. He’s a means to an end, meant to expose Jadzia’s feelings of inadequacy. Those feelings stem from washing out of the candidate program the first time, when Curzon Dax recommended she not be joined with a symbiont. Truth be told, Curzon is the one I was most interested to encounter, and the episode seems to agree with me, since we spend the most time on him. For a character who has been, until now, merely described instead of depicted, Curzon Dax is a complex figure, one who hung out with Klingons and joined Sisko on several adventures and eventually died on Risa, living his fullest life.
 
Odo takes on the essence of Curzon, and Rene Auberjonois hits a home run with his portrayal. Odo, naturally, is the only one whose face and hair change to match the former host inhabiting his body, and the two of them meld, much like when a Trill is joined. The result is neither completely Curzon nor completely Odo, but a new being made of the two of them. And it should be no surprise that Curzon wants to stay that way. Odo ends up liking it too, and the pair refuse to part, even to return Curzon’s essence to Dax.
 
I kind of wish they’d done more with this idea too, but it’s resolved quickly when Jadzia confronts Curzon and the revelations start flowing. Here’s the episode’s most interesting and least explored idea: Curzon was in love with Jadzia. That’s why he flunked her the first time – to avoid having to deal with his feelings – and why he didn’t object when she re-applied to be joined. His guilt at robbing her of her first attempt led him to silently accept her second. I’m surprised that Jadzia didn’t automatically know this, given that she had access to all of Curzon’s memories, but apparently he hid these feelings well.
 
This is really fascinating. The idea that a prior host could have romantic feelings for the current host, leading to innate insecurity and a tendency to avoid emotional connection? That’s some deep stuff, and it is certainly worth delving into much more than this story allows. These revelations come 10 minutes before the end, and there isn’t time to do more than have Jadzia embrace Curzon as part of herself again, knowing that her failed first try at joining was not her fault. It’s a solid ending, but I wanted much more Jadzia-Curzon interaction.
 
I definitely don’t think Facets deserved to be a two-parter, but it feels rushed and unfocused to me. It ducks down so many intriguing avenues, but never inhabits them, and I wanted each of these moments to be fully fleshed out. I wanted more Sisko-as-Joran, I wanted more O’Brien-as-Tobin, and I definitely wanted more Odo-as-Curzon. Facets allows us our deepest look yet at the former lives of Jadzia Dax, but it still feels like a teaser, and it leaves me wanting more. Which, I guess, makes it something of a success.
 
Random stuff:
 
The second plotline here is also a strong one: Quark sabotages Nog’s entrance exam to the Starfleet Academy preperatory program, hoping to nip the young Ferengi’s dreams of joining Starfleet in the bud. This is every parent who thinks their kid should get a job and make money instead of chasing their passions. I like this story because it allows for a definining Rom moment – he pushes Quark against a wall and warns him, in the strongest terms, not to mess with his son again. Max Grodenchik grabs hold of this moment and plays it for all it’s worth, and I nearly cheered. At the end, Nog passes his test and is one step closer to the Academy, and Rom is so proud. It’s delightful.
 
I am not sure why Verad Dax, who stole the Dax symbiont and joined with it for a few hours in season two’s Invasive Procedures, was not considered a past host. I don’t think this is explained.
 
Leeta’s place in this story was originally scripted for Keiko O’Brien, which makes a lot more sense. But Rosalind Chao was unavailable.
 
Evidently Avery Brooks was so creepy as Joran that his scenes had to be re-shot, so that the audience would not be completely freaked out. I would love to see those first takes.
 
Back in the TNG episode The Royale, Picard mentioned Fermat’s last theorem, an algebraic problem posed by mathematician Pierre de Fermat before his death in 1665. Picard mused that the theorem remained unsolved, even 800 years later. Well, about a month before Facets aired, another mathematician named Andrew Wiles proved it. Wiles gets a hat tip in this episode, sort of the Trek team’s way of acknowledging their inability to predict the future.
 
Tomorrow, we finally (FINALLY) wrap up season three with The Adversary. Onward!

Shakaar (DS9 S3E24)

As much as I enjoy the Capitalist Adventures of Quark and Rom, an episode like Shakaar is what truly distinguishes Deep Space Nine from its fellow Trek shows. This story offers us our first ground-level look at the political and religious situation on post-occupation Bajor and leaves our heroes in a completely different place than it found them.
 
Shakaar picks up where Life Support left off: Kira is mourning Vedek Bareil while Kai Winn is still basking in her victory, enjoying the treaty between Bajor and Cardassia that Bareil worked so hard to negotiate. Winn is now the spiritual leader of Bajor, and as this story begins, she becomes its political leader as well – she’s appointed to lead the provisional government when the First Minister dies of heart failure in his sleep. (I would not put it past Winn to have had the Minister assassinated, but the episode doesn’t suggest this. Which is why head canon is a thing.)
 
It’s been a while since I’ve encountered a fictional character I abhor as much as Kai Winn. Which of course means that the writers and Louise Fletcher are doing their jobs well. I can barely listen to her speak without feeling a low-level bubbling rage. Winn is a master at barely disguising her ambitions behind an unflappable oh-so-sweet demeanor – you know she’s lying and manipulating everyone around her, but her actual words are so diplomatically chosen that you can’t hang her with them.
 
And Winn gives me another few reasons to despise her here. She’s mere days into her reign as head of the government when she encounters her first big challenge, and she fails miserably. During the occupation the Cardassians poisoned the soil of most of Bajor’s farmland, leaving it barren. Bajoran scientists have now developed the technology to reinvigorate that soil, using a device called a reclamator. But there are only a few of those devices, and the farmers in different regions have had to take turns.
 
At present, the reclamators are in the hands of farmers in the Dahkur Province, and have been promised to them for the next year. However, Winn sees more value in jumpstarting another province, Rakantha, and wants to take the reclamators back and send them there. Of course, the farmers in Dahkur don’t want to give up their only hope of tilling the land again, so they refuse. And the leaders of this community just happen to be former resistance fighters, and friends of Kira Nerys.
 
So of course Winn, without any sense of shame, enlists Kira to get the reclamators back from her friends. Winn does this despite having been instrumental in the death of Kira’s lover Bareil, and despite knowing that Kira has no loyalty or love for her. Winn plays on the loyalty our major does have, to her home of Bajor – it is Winn’s contention that reinvigorating the Rakantha province and starting up trade will greatly improve Bajor’s chances of being admitted to the Federation.
 
See how complicated this all is? This is all before the first act break. Kira beams down and meets with the titular Shakaar Edon, whom she knows well from her days fighting the Cardassians. Shakaar is played with square-jawed charm by Duncan Regehr, and we last saw him as a sexy ghost in the abysmal TNG episode Sub Rosa. I don’t want to hold that against him – Regehr does a perfectly serviceable job here – but I can’t help it. I have showered countless times since watching Sub Rosa but its stink remains.
 
Anyway, Shakaar and his fellow farmers – also resistance fighters who know Kira well – explain the situation to her and refuse to give up the reclamators. Kira tries to work things out diplomatically, but Winn isn’t having it, and she’s soon sending troops to arrest Shakaar and his friends. Kira feels duped, which is an unfortunate side effect of being duped, and she joins the farmers on the run. With the reclamators in a safe place, the band of resistance fighters hides out in a cave system that they know better than Winn’s soldiers do.
 
Remarkably, all of this nearly leads to a civil war. It only takes two weeks for word of Shakaar’s fight against Winn to spread, and for other provinces to rise up as well. Winn, showing her complete lack of leadership ability, declares martial law and suspends local governments in several of those provinces, and even she can feel her grip on Bajor slipping. She turns to Sisko for help, and when he refuses to use Starfleet’s might to bring Shakaar in, she threatens to withdraw Bajor’s application to the Federation. Basically, she’s the worst and should never be in charge of anything.
 
I love the way this story ends up. The plot seems to be leading toward a tense standoff in the mountains between Shakaar and Winn’s troops, but it turns out that the leader of those troops, Lenaris, was also a resistance fighter, because of course. We get this great exchange between the two of them:
 
SHAKAAR: I didn’t fight the Cardassians for twenty-five years just so I could start shooting other Bajorans.
LENARIS: Neither did I. So, what do we do about it?
 
And then Lenaris brings Shakaar to Winn, but not as a prisoner. Shakaar announces that he is running for Winn’s position at the head of the provisional government, and after the last two weeks, there’s no doubt he would win. They seal the deal by threatening to expose the fact that Winn nearly took Bajor into a civil war over a couple of pieces of farm equipment, and she slinks off back to the temple alone. Just that by itself – the fact that this story delivers a humiliating defeat to an odious character – makes it a winner in my book.
 
Of course, there’s plenty more going for this one. My biggest complaint about this episode is that it should have been two. It’s such an upheaval of the status quo, such a season of import for Bajor, that I would have liked to have taken more time with it and really explored the implications of what Winn tried to do here. I know we will see Shakaar again – the fact that Kira blows out the candle on her memorial to Bareil at the end here signals a possible deeper relationship for the two of them – and I’m sure we will delve into the toxic politics of Kai Winn as the series unfolds.
 
This one just feels rushed, but only because it tries to tell a sweeping, dense story over only 45 minutes. Honestly, though, when my only complaint is that the episode is too short? That’s a good one. Shakaar is a strong installment in what is already a terrific ongoing story, and it leaves me wanting to know what happens next. You can’t really ask for more than that.
 
Random stuff:
 
There’s a second plot here about Miles O’Brien riding a hot streak in the darts games at Quark’s. Clearly this has no business sharing an episode with the main plot, but here it is, and I have literally nothing to say about it.
 
Tomorrow, Facets. Onward!

Family Business (DS9 S3E23)

Family Business is an earnest attempt to inject some serious drama into the lives of our favorite Ferengi, Quark and Rom. I don’t think it works, not completely, but I kind of admire how committed this story is to peeling back the comic relief and showing the beating hearts of our Ferengi family. We learn a lot about Quark and Rom and how they came to be who they are in this episode, and the heartfelt script is almost enough to make one forget how goofy these little trolls can be.
 
This episode introduces us to Ishka, the matriarch of Quark and Rom’s family. The brothers make their way back to the Ferengi homeworld (which is seriously called Ferenginar, as we learn here) when their mother is accused of breaking Ferengi law by earning profits, a privilege reserved only for males. We get the sense early on that Ishka is exasperating for Quark, and we quickly see why: when we meet her, she is wearing clothes, flouting another Ferengi tradition. And she is not shy with her belief that women should be free to make as much profit as they can.
 
Even in the early scenes with Ishka we get some insights into the ways Quark and Rom’s relationship is filtered through her. Quark has had to step into the role of patriarch, and he’s the one who shakes his head disapprovingly when his mother breaks with his belief in the Ferengi way of life. Rom, on the other hand, is his mother’s son – he calls her “Moogie” and constantly defends her to Quark. He’s much more affectionate with Ishka than Quark is, but I definitely got the impression that this is not Ishka’s choice. She loves her sons equally, in the ways that they can accept.
 
Ishka stands accused of raking in three bars of latinum in a business deal. Quark’s mission on Ferenginar (really) is to get his mother to sign a confession and return the latinum, because if he does not, he’ll be on the hook for it. (This news comes courtesy of Brunt, of the Ferengi Commerce Authority, who will become a recurring character.) Even though three bars is not much money, both Quark and Ishka stand on their principles, neither one wishing to justify the other’s point of view. For Quark it is the entire Ferengi culture that is at stake, and for Ishka it is her belief that women have just as much right to be in business as men.
 
I grew to admire Ishka as this episode unfolded. Her husband was like Rom: he had no head for business and would not accept advice or help from his far more adept wife. (Rom’s takedowns of his father sound a lot like Nog’s takedown of his own dad in Heart of Stone.) The Ferengi rules about men and women must be utterly suffocating for someone like Ishka, who – as we learn here – is actually quite skilled with money, and has no freedom to enjoy that talent. She’s also emotionally perceptive and knows what each of her sons need from her. She knows she and Quark are a lot alike, deep down. They both feel purposeful when they are finding new ways to profit, and it was Ishka who taught Quark the Rules of Acquisition.
 
It turns out Ishka is more committed to profit than Quark and Rom ever knew, too. Quark uncovers hundreds of clandestine transactions his mother has carried out under several false names, and discovers that she has made more money than he could ever pay back. Quark is determined to turn his mother in, which leads to a fistfight with Rom. But it is the ever-resourceful Rom who brings the two together, by lying to both of them: he tells his mother that Quark will let her keep her profits, and he tells Quark that Ishka is prepared to split them with him. It works, and there’s a tender reconciliation scene between Quark and Ishka before she agrees to confess and return her profits, just to keep her son happy.
 
Of course, we also learn that Ishka is far shrewder than we were led to believe – Quark only uncovered about a third of her earnings, and she plans to keep the rest. That she shares this secret only with Rom is just sweet. Quark thinks he knows more than his brother about pretty much everything, but Rom is the one who truly knows their mother. That’s a nice place to leave it, even though I know Ishka comes back throughout the series.
 
All of this sounds good when summarized, but it’s a little harder to take when it’s a family of Ferengi acting out this emotional chamber drama. I can’t fault Armin Shimerman or Max Grodenchik, who have their portrayals of Quark and Rom down to a science at this point, and Andrea Martin impresses as Ishka. I think it’s just the overall jarring tone of seeing these big-eared, pointy-toothed goofballs try to tug at our heartstrings.
 
Family Business is a perceptive piece of work, and it does a lot to bring depth to Quark and Rom. I’m just not sure the Ferengi can shoulder all that seriousness. I expect they’ll be back to trying to make us laugh next time, and I expect it will suit them better. I don’t think Family Business is bad, but I’m not sure that it points in a sustainable direction for Quark and Rom. I admire the courage to try something like this, and I don’t think it’s a disaster, but it doesn’t quite sell me.
 
Random stuff:
 
In addition to Andrea Martin’s Ishka (who will be played by Cecily Adams when she returns) and Jeffrey Combs’ Brunt, Family Business introduces us to a third character who will become a recurring presence on DS9: Kasidy Yates, as played by Penny Johnson. Yates is the freighter captain Jake mentioned to his dad in Explorers, and here we get to see their first date and watch them bond over a shared love of baseball. It’s a sweet start to their relationship.
 
I did enjoy seeing how monetarily driven Ferengi society is. Everything costs money and every action on Ferenginar has been monetized. Bribery appears to be a common thing, too.
 
The USS Rubicon joins the small fleet of runabouts on Deep Space Nine, replacing the Mekong, which was destroyed in The Die is Cast. As Dax says, good thing there are a lot of rivers to name these ships after.
 
Tomorrow, Shakaar. Onward!

Explorers (DS9 S3E22)

Of course, they can’t all be continuity-heavy jaw-droppers. Explorers is a sweet little interlude, a father-and-son story that also serves as a love letter to the spirit of discovery that led humanity to seek out new lands on its home planet, and new worlds in the cosmos. It’s a bit of a comedown after two episodes of stellar storytelling, but there’s enough earnest optimism here to power this little ship to its destination.
 
Sisko’s story here is based on that of Thor Heyerdahl, who aimed to show that people from South America could have settled in Polynesia in pre-Columbian times. In 1947, he did so by building a raft named the Kon-Tiki using only the materials available at the time and sailing it across the Pacific Ocean, at great risk to himself. Sisko undertakes a similar journey here to prove an old Bajoran belief true: that the ancient Bajorans were capable of constructing space vessels that could fly them to Cardassia.
 
So, upon returning to Deep Space Nine after visiting the opening of an historical archive on Bajor, Sisko becomes obsessed with building one of those ships, using only the tools and materials the ancient Bajorans would have had. He then gets the crazy idea to try to sail this Jules Verne-esque vessel to Cardassia, several light years away. O’Brien is skeptical, and who wouldn’t be: the ship appears to be made of wood and welded steel, and I don’t see how it’s airtight, nor how it can store enough oxygen for the trip. It moves by catching “light pressure” in big sails, which also doesn’t make a lot of sense.
 
But this isn’t a story about making sense, it’s about championing the spirit of adventure. Sisko decides to risk his son’s life as well, inviting him aboard for the trip, and while at first he is reluctant, it isn’t because he thinks he might die. It’s because he is apparently still seeing Lisa Turtle… er, I mean, Leanne, and she is due back at the station. But then he reconsiders, and we never mention Leanne again, so I guess her arrival wasn’t that important? I dunno. The point is, Jake goes along, which allows Avery Brooks and Cirroc Lofton to explore the father-son dynamics of their characters in close quarters.
 
Those scenes are fun to watch. It’s clear that this trip brings the Sisko men closer together. Jake asks his father to read one of his stories, and the elder Sisko is impressed. Jake breaks the news that he’s received a writing fellowship to attend the Pennington School in New Zealand, and Benjamin beams with pride. Jake is planning to turn it down because he doesn’t want his father to be lonely, and the bit where Benjamin agrees to go on a date with a woman Jake knows, so long as Jake doesn’t base his decision to take the fellowship or not on how that date goes, is heartwarming. These two actors are not the most naturalistic in the cast, but they bring out the best in each other in this story.
 
They also band together to survive the trip, because of course things go wrong. The rigging snaps, sails fly off into space, and before long the journey starts to look impossible. But then they encounter a tachyon eddy – a tachyon is a hypothetical particle that can travel faster than light – which propels their little ship all the way to Cardassia. This must be how the ancient Bajorans did it too, Sisko theorizes. In a funny twist at the end, the Siskos arrive in Cardassian orbit just as the Cardassians “discover” the remains of a similar ship sailed by the ancient Bajorans – the Cardassians knew the Bajorans made that journey in ancient times, but never acknowledged it until Sisko proved it was possible.
 
There’s a second plotline here about Julian Bashir meeting up with the valedictorian of his university class, Elizabeth Lense, again for the first time since graduation. Not for the first time, I kind of wish the secondary plot had found its way into a different episode, or meshed more with the theme of the primary story. Julian is nervous to see Lense again – we know now that he purposefully got that famous answer wrong on his exam, to avoid the pressure of being valedictorian, so I’m not sure how his seeming uncertainty about his own abilities and place in the world here mesh with that story – but she turns out to be lovely, and they get along famously.
 
This whole second story is worth it, though, for the scene in which Bashir and O’Brien get drunk together. Bashir is tying himself up in knots about seeing Lense again, and O’Brien is trying to encourage him, and after they massacre “Jerusalem” together, this happens:
 
O’BRIEN: Well, people either love you or hate you.
BASHIR: Really?
O’BRIEN: I hated you when we first met.
BASHIR: I remember.
O’BRIEN: But now.
BASHIR: But now?
O’BRIEN: Well, now I don’t.
BASHIR: That means a lot to me, Chief. It really does.
O’BRIEN: Really. Now that is from the heart. I really do. Not hate you anymore.
 
That feels like a big step. I continue to love watching these two together, and it’s clear that the writers and the actors adore this relationship as much as I do.
 
Explorers is a trifle, but I like that it captures the hope and thrill of discovery that is central to the DNA of Star Trek. Throughout this story, Sisko imagines what it must have been like to set out into the inky blackness in search of new worlds, with no guarantee of success or survival, and you can see on his face how much that thought instills in him. We don’t have to imagine it – we’re living it, taking our first tentative steps off of this planet to explore other ones, so this is a story about the present inspiring the future. I kind of love that, and I kind of love this strange little story too.
 
Random stuff:
 
It’s not really referenced here, but I’m not sure how Starfleet must have felt about the commanding officer of what has become one of its most important space stations deciding, on a whim, to risk his life on a journey like this. I imagine they could have ordered him not to, and probably should have, considering the imminent threat of the Dominion. The Siskos also don’t appear to have taken any precautions, like wearing space suits, so I suppose we aren’t meant to take this one that seriously.
 
Apparently Colm Meaney and Siddig El Fadil really wanted to sing either “Louie Louie” or “Rocket Man” during their drunken scenes, but the rights to those songs proved too expensive.
 
We meet Leeta here for the first time, played by Chase Masterson. Leeta will return many more times and play a key role in the story of one of our favorite Ferengi. I know Masterson for playing space mercenary Vienna Salvatori in a series of Big Finish audio dramas.
 
Perhaps the most significant change to the DS9 status quo from this episode: Sisko grows a beard, which he will have for the rest of the series. Hey, it worked for Riker.
 
Tomorrow, Family Business. Onward!

The Die is Cast (DS9 S3E21)

Now that’s how you do it. This two-part story – Improbable Cause and The Die is Cast – is a better Star Trek movie than almost any that hit the big screen. Last episode’s perfect setup leads into this episode’s sublime, jaw-dropping conclusion, one that sets up a new status quo for the series, dispenses with a truly fascinating antagonist and brings us closer than ever to war with the Dominion. All that and some fantastic Garak and Odo scenes, too.
 
Where do I even begin? Well, let’s start with Garak, still one of the most compelling characters in all of Star Trek. At the end of Improbable Cause, we learned without a shadow of a doubt that Garak had once been an operative of the Obsidian Order, the shady Cardassian special forces organization. We also started to glimpse the complex personal relationship Garak has with Enebran Tain, the former head of the Order, especially when Tain offered Garak a chance to end his exile and join him on a momentous secret mission. And Garak jumped at the chance.
 
That mission is the focus of The Die is Cast, as Tain and the Obsidian Order join forces with their Romulan equivalent, the Tal Shiar, to mount a surprise assault on the home planet of the Founders, leaders of the Dominion. But with all the sturm und drang here – and we’ll get to that – the heart of the episode is Garak’s divided loyalties. We spend the most time with Garak here as he is talked into torturing Odo for information on his people, the changelings who founded the Dominion. And we see how much he wants to please Tain, and how much it hurts him to cause Odo pain. Andrew Robinson has rarely been better.
 
The same goes for Rene Auberjonois, who is magnificent in his scenes with Robinson here. Garak is talked into using a prototype device that prevents Odo from changing into his liquid form – which, remember, he needs to do every 16 hours in order to survive – and the resulting mutation is horrific. Odo suffers tremendous pain in this story, and Garak is forced to watch, and it’s clear he does not enjoy it. Odo simply does not have any information on his people that Tain does not already have (from his alliance with the Romulans, who let Sisko borrow a cloaking device in return for said information), and Garak knows this. He’s torturing Odo for nothing, just to prove his loyalty to Tain.
 
But the torture does work – Odo reveals something to Garak that he hasn’t told anyone else. He’s homesick. Odo wants desperately to return to the world of the Founders and join the Great Link, and it is only his sense of justice that is keeping him from doing so. It’s a stunning admission, one that I’m sure will have implications for Odo’s role in the war with the Dominion, which is now inevitable. But I was just as surprised by Garak, who understands the personal nature of this confession and does not reveal it to Tain. This story makes it harder than ever to suss out Garak’s loyalties, but this is an act of pure decency, and I’m glad it’s here.
 
I said war is now inevitable, and it certainly seems that is the case. While Sisko disobeys a direct order from Starfleet and takes the Defiant through the wormhole in search of Odo, Tain and his forces launch an attack on the Founders’ home world. And they quickly discover that they’ve been led into a trap. The following sequence is full of head-spinning revelations: the Founders planted a spy among the Romulans, in the form of Lovok, a character we’ve been watching for two episodes now. With that spy’s intel, the Founders evacuated their planet and hid a fleet of 150 Jem’Hadar ships inside a nearby nebula.
 
The Founders’ plan, as it turns out, was to lead the Obsidian Order and the Tal Shiar into the Gamma Quadrant and obliterate them, which the Jem’Hadar do with apparent ease. As Lovok says to Odo, “After today the only real threat to us from the Alpha Quadrant are the Klingons and the Federation. And I doubt that either of them will be a threat for much longer.” Tain gets a last scene worthy of him, as he realizes what a fool he has been, and Odo and Garak barely escape with their lives.
 
Of course, they escape on a tiny runabout into a full-scale space war. And it looks incredible. The Trek team has clearly been saving up some money for this one, and they spent it on some of the most exciting ship-to-ship battle sequences in the franchise to date. The best of them comes late: Odo and Garak are surrounded by Jem’Hadar ships, certain they are going to die – Garak even apologizes for torturing Odo – when the Defiant swoops in, guns blazing. It’s an iconic moment, the fist-pumping climax to a superb story.
 
So where do we leave it? The entirety of the Cardassian and Romulan fleets are destroyed, leaving the Alpha Quadrant ripe for an invasion. Enebran Tain is dead, and Garak’s chance to end his exile has died with him. Garak’s tailor shop is still in ruins, a metaphor for his life. But in a final moment of grace, Odo forgives him and suggests a friendship. (This whole scene is shot with Garak in the foreground and Odo reflected in a mirror, and it’s great.) It’s a perfect moment to end on, hopefully starting a road to redemption for our lost Cardassian. In two episodes Garak has gone from a man of mystery to a complex and even tragic character, and we’ll never look at him the same way again.
 
I might never look at DS9 the same way again either. These two episodes have raised the bar even higher than the show’s usual standard, tying together plot threads that stretch back to the very start of the show and opening the door to more serialized excellence in the future. I said at the start of this journey that Deep Space Nine was my favorite Star Trek series, but I only had vague memories of why. Now I remember. This is why.
 
Random stuff:
 
This is the first episode executive produced by Ira Stephen Behr, who becomes synonymous with Deep Space Nine in a lot of ways. One of his first changes was to up the budget for space battles like the one in this story. In fact, this battle was the largest ever seen on screen in Star Trek to this point, and just the scene in which the Defiant saves the runabout took four days to film. All worth it.
 
Really, there’s nothing more to say. This is stunning stuff, and it will be pretty hard to go back to Ferengi episodes after this.
 
Tomorrow, Explorers. Onward!

Improbable Cause (DS9 S3E20)

“The truth is usually just an excuse for a lack of imagination.”
 
Since he was first introduced in DS9’s second episode, the character of Elim Garak has been a slow-burning mystery. He presents himself as a simple tailor, one who stayed behind on the station after the Cardassian occupation of Bajor was routed. But over time (and several cagey lunches with Bashir), we have discovered that Garak is much more than he appears.
 
There’s plenty of evidence that he was once an operative of the Obsidian Order, the Cardassian intelligence agency, and he has been exiled for some form of betrayal. Garak clearly has connections with the shadier parts of the Cardassian government, including Enebran Tain, former head of the Order, but there is also no love lost, as evidenced by his willingness to kill Entek in Second Skin. Through all of this, Garak has spun a web of lies, including denying up and down that he was ever a member of the Order, and untangling that web could easily lead to years of simmering storytelling.
 
Or, of course, the Trek team could just set it all on fire, which is what they’ve done in Improbable Cause. This riveting episode, the first of a two-parter, starts with Garak’s tailor shop exploding and ends with him returning to the Obsidian Order at Enebran Tain’s side, ready to invade the Gamma Quadrant and take on the Dominion. On the way from one bombshell to another, it never puts a foot wrong. It’s Deep Space Nine at its very best.
 
There are many top-notch decisions in this story, but the choice to pair Garak and Odo together for much of it is undoubtedly the best one. Odo prides himself on his ability to see through people, observing their behavior until they give themselves away. Garak similarly prides himself on that tangled web he weaves, not so much obscuring the truth as refusing to accept that the concept of truth even exists. I don’t know why these two haven’t been thrown together before this, but they make a naturally abrasive pair. Their dialogue scenes are superb, and both Rene Auberjonois and Andrew Robinson make the most of them.
 
One of my favorite moments comes when Odo figures out that Garak blew up his own shop. At first it seems like an assassination attempt, and Odo quickly gets the drop on the likeliest suspect, an alien visitor aboard Deep Space Nine. But as Odo discovers (and reveals with a coup de grace), Garak planted the bomb himself as a way of a) foiling the actual attempt on his life, and b) convincing Odo to investigate. Which means Garak knew that his life was in danger, but didn’t know why. And when the trail leads to the Romulans, he’s as baffled as anyone else.
 
It turns out that Garak has become aware of a rash of assassinations, and all of the victims were, like himself, associates of Enebran Tain. Odo learns more from a shadowy informant – literally, his face is obscured by shadow for the entire scene, in classic X-Files style – and discovers that the Romulans are massing troops and ships near the Cardassian border. Are the Romulans and Cardassians working together?
 
As it happens, yes, and no. Garak and Odo head off in search of Tain, and when they are captured by Romulans, they discover the truth: Tain and the Romulans are secretly planning an assault on the Founders, as a way of crippling the Dominion. This is a pretty incredible revelation, and it ties back nicely to the ongoing story of the Romulans lending Sisko a cloaking device in return for information about the Dominion. The Romulans know everything the Federation has learned about their foes in the Gamma Quadrant, and now Tain knows it all too. This is some quality long-form storytelling, and I am impressed.
 
The big picture of this episode is fantastic, but the smaller moments make it for me. I love Garak’s implied relationship with Tain, for instance, so delightfully embodied by Paul Dooley. Their bond is clearly personal, and runs deeper than just mentor and protégé. Despite his exile, Garak is still willing to risk his life for Tain. There’s a tremendous scene between Odo and Garak in which Odo susses this out, confronting Garak with it, and Garak has no response except to lash out.
 
GARAK: It’s been my observation that you always act from a sense of justice, or at least what you consider justice. There’s no feeling behind what you do, no emotion beyond a certain distaste for loose ends and disorder. You don’t know what it means to care about someone, do you? People are just interesting creatures to be studied and analyzed.
ODO: Is there any point to this?
GARAK: Only that I find it interesting that you ascribe feelings and motivations to me that you know nothing about. Or am I wrong? Tell me, is there one person in this universe you do care for? One person who’s more than just an interesting puzzle to be solved. Is there, Odo? Anyone?
ODO: If there were, I certainly wouldn’t tell you.
GARAK: And that would be a wise decision.
 
This is as heated as it gets between the two of them, and it still feels like parrying and lunging, like playing a conversational game. Odo is right, of course – when Tain confronts the two of them, accusing Garak of betraying him again, Garak seems legitimately hurt. He screams in his own defense, saying he never betrayed Tain in his heart. And that’s when Tain knows he has him. He offers Garak a choice: go free, or join him in his return to the Obsidian Order. And Garak chooses the latter, sealing his devil’s deal with a handshake. It’s quite the cliffhanger, and I have no idea where the second half will take us.
 
What I do know is that we can’t go back to not knowing Garak’s story. This episode locked in so many details of Garak’s past that he will never again be the shifty man of mystery aboard DS9. If you’re going to solve those mysteries, the answers had better be good, and they very much are here. As happy as I would have been to tease out the facts about Garak over the next four seasons, I’m thrilled that we’ve just kicked that all to the ground and set up a new status quo. This is where we live now, and I’m so ready to see what’s next.
 
Random stuff:
 
I keep coming back to the scene between Garak and Bashir in which our simple tailor posits a new moral for the story of the boy who cried wolf: “Never tell the same lie twice.” That’s Garak’s motto if anything is.
 
More Garak-Bashir goodness, after Bashir asks if there’s any unfinished business he needs him to take care of:
 
GARAK: Actually, Doctor, there is something.
BASHIR: What?
GARAK: If you go into my quarters and examine the bulkhead next to the replicator, you’ll notice there’s a false panel. Behind that panel is a compartment containing an isolinear rod. If I’m not back within seventy-eight hours, I want you to take that rod and eat it.
BASHIR: Eat it? You’re joking.
GARAK: Yes, Doctor, I am.
 
The new Romulan uniforms seen here were apparently created at the insistence of producer Ronald D. Moore, who hated the original design.
 
Seriously, do we need any argument beyond this episode that serialized Trek is a great, great idea? This story builds on three seasons of work, not just with Garak but with the Dominion, the Cardassian government and the Romulans. And depending how Tain’s invasion goes, it could have long-lasting implications for the rest of the series. It’s a triumph of long-form narrative storytelling.
 
Tomorrow, the second part: The Die is Cast. Onward!

Through the Looking Glass (DS9 S3E19)

When the original Star Trek gave us Mirror Mirror as part of its second season, it was novel. An alternate universe in which a dark Terran Empire rose up in place of the Federation, populated by brutal doppelgangers of our beloved characters! That’s a very strong premise for a single-episode story. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer did much the same thing in its third season.) When Deep Space Nine revisited the mirror universe in season two’s Crossover, it was novel in a different way – here was this nostalgic visit to an earlier story idea, a nice callback that inverted the hopeful conclusion of the original and examined the destructive impact of interfering with other cultures.
 
Now, with Through the Looking Glass, the Trek team is doing something different: establishing the mirror universe as a recurring setting, as a place we are meant to care about, as more than just a novelty. In short, establishing it as important. After this, we’ll be heading back to the mirror universe three more times in DS9, and revisiting it in Enterprise and Discovery, and the question this episode attempts to answer is whether there is enough storytelling fodder in this alternate reality to justify bringing it back again and again.
 
My answer, after seeing this episode, is a cautious maybe. Like Crossover, Looking Glass examines the impact of our universe’s characters on the mirror society, and it has a compelling hook. When we last left the mirror universe, our Kira and Bashir had sparked a rebellion against the tyrannical Klingon-Cardassian alliance, a rebellion led by the mirror versions of Sisko and O’Brien. Looking Glass picks up some time later, after the mirror Sisko has been killed, and it finds the alternate O’Brien kidnapping the real Sisko from our universe and convincing him to take his counterpart’s place.
 
But wait, that’s not even the hook. It turns out that the mirror Sisko was planning an operation, and the mirror O’Brien asks the real Sisko to complete it: the rebellion plans to abduct a human scientist, currently working for the Alliance on DS9 (called Terok Nor here, naturally), and convince her to join them. And that scientist just happens to be the mirror version of Jennifer Sisko. This is a great idea – it allows us to contrast the reckless, insensitive mirror Sisko with the one we know and love, through the eyes of the woman who knows him best, and it puts our Sisko in a difficult emotional spot, which we get to watch him work through. The show has barely dealt with our Jennifer’s death, and this feels like a golden opportunity to do so in a clever way.
 
There’s also a ticking clock element, as Jennifer is in the final stages of constructing a new device for the Alliance that will allow them to locate the rebellion’s secret base. It’s a solid setup, and the story fulfills it nicely. Avery Brooks has a great time playing the more unhinged mirror version of Sisko (though how our Sisko gets the impression so dead-on without having ever met his counterpart is beyond me), matched only by Nana Visitor as the much more sensual alt-Kira, reveling in her power as a trusted collaborator of the Alliance. Neither actor brings anything new to these performances that they did not give us in Crossover, but they’re both fun to watch.
 
Less fun is Felecia M. Bell as Jennifer, though she does a decent job. I’m not sure that the Trek team knew, when they cast her as Sisko’s deceased wife, how often they would bring Bell back, and how much dramatic weight they would ask her to carry. She’s fine here, but never really convincing, and I can only imagine how powerful her argument and reconciliation scenes with the man she thinks is her husband would have been in the hands of a more accomplished actor.
 
Those scenes are the culmination of the episode’s examination of Sisko, and while we don’t get any hints as to how our Sisko’s development diverged from that of his doppelganger’s, we do get to see why the mirror universe Jennifer walked away. The first hint comes when we realize that the mirror universe’s Dax is Sisko’s mistress, and I don’t even want to contemplate the fact that this story strongly hints that our Sisko has sex with the alt-Dax. (Sure, he has to stay in character, but… man.) The Sisko we met in Crossover is selfish, arrogant, cares little for the greater good and has nothing to offer someone like Jennifer, and I enjoyed watching her slowly realize that the Benjamin Sisko she meets here is nothing like the rogue she calls her husband.
 
I also quite enjoyed this story’s brief yet piercing look at Rom, who has joined the rebellion to avenge his brother Quark, killed by the Alliance. Looking Glass plays on our prejudices about Rom, fooling us into thinking that he betrays the rebellion by spying for alt-Kira. But no, this is all part of the plan, and it’s Rom’s faux-betrayal that gets the rebels aboard Terek Nor and in a position to rescue Jennifer. Sadly, though, the mirror universe’s Rom is tortured and killed, giving up his secrets in the bargain. But the worst you can say about this Rom is that he couldn’t withstand interrogation. He was a hero, and I like that Max Grodenchik played him as such – this Rom is much more forceful and confident. It’s a shame we won’t see him again.
 
The rebels are, of course, successful, and Jennifer joins their cause. There’s a fun bit near the end with Sisko using his access codes to set the station’s self-destruct program into motion in a last-ditch effort to escape, and as this is a trick he can only pull once, I’m glad he pulls it here. I suppose I considered revisiting the mirror universe in a similar way, as a trick that could only be carried off once, but Through the Looking Glass is strong enough to warrant a reconsideration of that notion. I’m still not sure the returns won’t diminish as we go, but I’m willing to give the Trek team the benefit of the doubt. This was a strong story, and I hope the rest of the mirror universe episodes have similarly strong reasons to exist.
 
Random stuff:
 
Hey, it’s the mirror universe’s version of Tuvok, the Vulcan played by Tim Russ across seven seasons of Voyager. We’ll get to our universe’s version of him in a few months, but it’s good to see his counterpart here on the side of the good guys.
 
We learn here that Morn is a Time Lord, or at least that he has at least two hearts.
 
Tomorrow, Improbable Cause. Onward!

Distant Voices (DS9 S3E18)

When I was in high school I acted in a play called Toby or Not Toby. I played Toby, the comatose victim of a car crash who spent the entirety of the play inside his own head, with all of the other characters representing facets of his personality. Distant Voices is essentially that, but with Julian Bashir – almost the entire episode takes place in Bashir’s mind as his body recovers from an alien attack.
 
I like that the episode doesn’t treat its setting as a mystery, since it’s fairly easy to figure out. We see the alien being, whose name is Altovar, break into Bashir’s infirmary in search of a dangerous chemical. We see Bashir try to stop him, and Altovar attack him by sending some form of energy bolt into Bashir’s head. And the next thing we know, we’re on a practically deserted Deep Space Nine, with Bashir searching for his friends. Either something cataclysmic has happened off-screen, or we’re about to embark on an internal journey through Bashir’s wounded brain.
 
The Trek team easily could have left that revelation to the end, putting Bashir through trial after trial until he finally figured out the truth. But they dispense with all that around the 15-minute mark. The first clue is Bashir’s rapid aging – we learned at the top of the episode that this is his 30th birthday, and that he fears getting older, so the Bashir we meet in his mental landscape is greying around the temples, and progressively getting older with each scene. The second clue comes when Bashir finds his colleagues, and they are all acting strangely.
 
To his (and the episode’s) credit, Bashir figures it out pretty much right away. And we’re free, then, to get on with what is truly fascinating about this one: the extended peek it affords us at the inner workings of Bashir’s mind. Our other characters all represent pieces of his personality. O’Brien gives voice to Bashir’s self-doubt, acting like Eeyore for most of the story. Kira is Bashir’s aggression, Odo his suspicion, Dax his confidence and Quark his fear. This is interesting because Bashir rarely lets us see beyond his carefully prepared exterior, and here we get to hear his subconscious say things the real Bashir would never allow us to.
 
Of course, Altovar exists in Bashir’s mind too, representing the encroaching danger to his physical brain. The crippled and abandoned station represents the damage already done, and Altovar is working to finish the job. He attacks Dax and kills Odo and Kira, trying to rob Bashir of his confidence and strength. And all the while, the good doctor is growing older – by the episode’s back third, he’s barely able to walk, his silver hair and wrinkled skin giving him the look of a man in his 70s.
 
This is all genuinely creepy, shot on a shadowy, dark DS9 set, and it’s a veritable showcase for Siddig El Fadil, who is excellent throughout. As good as he is throughout the episode, his best moments come at the end, when he realizes that the Garak in his mind isn’t representing part of his personality at all, but is actually Altovar, working against him. (Gonna go out on a limb and say this is a metaphor.) Altovar pulls out his greatest weapon: hard truths about Julian Bashir, designed to make him falter, to question the person he is and has become.
 
And we learn these truths as well. We learn that Bashir once entertained thoughts of becoming a professional tennis player (which explains why he’s so dominant in his racquetball games with O’Brien), but pursued medicine to win his parents’ approval. Most delightfully, we learn that Bashir’s well-worn story about making a mistake on his final medical school exam that cost him his spot as valedictorian is a lie. We heard this story in Q-Less, about Bashir mixing up two similar-sounding (but not really similar at all) parts of the anatomy, and here we discover that he made this mistake on purpose, as he didn’t want the pressure of being first in his class.
 
It is when Altovar brings up Bashir’s feelings for Dax that he goes too far, though. Siddig El Fadil gets a tremendous speech in which he admits to these truths, but celebrates the life he has anyway. Deep Space Nine is his home, Dax is his dear friend, and his life at 30 is the way he wants it to be. With that he dispenses with the Altovar in his mind, wakes up in the infirmary and all is well.
 
For the second week in a row Deep Space Nine has dressed up in TNG’s clothes and delivered a story that would have been at home on its predecessor. But for the second week in a row the DS9 team has sold me on this type of story, pulling off an entertaining spin on older tropes and giving us some insight into this show’s characters. In both episodes the lead actors have risen to the challenge as well, and the result has been a pair of stories that shouldn’t work on Deep Space Nine, but do anyway. If we’re going to have TNG-style tales, more like this, please.
 
Random stuff:
 
I love the exchange between Bashir and Garak in the last scene, after Bashir has awoken from his coma.
 
GARAK: What I find interesting is how your mind ended up casting me in the role of the villain.
BASHIR: Oh, I wouldn’t read too much into that, Garak.
GARAK: Oh how can I not? To think, after all this time, all our lunches together, you still don’t trust me. There’s hope for you yet, Doctor.
 
This episode won an Emmy for makeup, and while I think the grey temples early on were pretty lousy, the Trek team did a nice job of aging Siddig El Fadil as the episode unspooled.
 
Tomorrow, Through the Looking Glass. Onward!

Visionary (DS9 S3E17)

Visionary is a solid take on a science fiction trope: the one where characters temporarily travel to the future and then have to prevent some terrible fate from taking place. In this case it is the perpetually put-upon Miles O’Brien who keeps getting shunted five hours into the future, at just the right times to see a series of escalating events that he must stop from taking place. This story is firmly on the “time can be rewritten” side of time travel stories, and watching Miles and his colleagues unravel these mysteries is a lot of fun.
 
There is, of course, a technobabble reason why O’Brien keeps moving through time. When we first see him, he’s just recovered from an explosion in a corridor – one of the plasma conduits blew and doused him in radiation which, when paired with an astronomical phenomenon called a quantum singularity, can cause temporal slippage. This is nonsense, but Bashir says it with such confidence, and who am I to argue with a Carrington Award nominee?
 
The point is that O’Brien is seeing the future, and though it begins with something simple – a bar fight at Quark’s – we know that eventually O’Brien will either see his own death, or see Deep Space Nine destroyed. As it turns out, he sees both of these things, and his time-jumps help him to unravel a pair of conspiracies happening aboard the station.
 
One of my favorite things about Visionary is that life on DS9 doesn’t stop while O’Brien deals with his time travel issues. The Romulans have decided to call in their favor from The Search, in which they allowed Sisko to borrow and install a cloaking device on the Defiant in return for information about the Dominion. The sketchy and incomplete info Sisko brought back from that mission hasn’t pleased the Romulans, who have opened an inquiry. And they’re particularly interested in Odo, whom they mistakenly believe is one of the founders of the Dominion.
 
At the same time, DS9 is playing surprise host to a trio of Klingons while their ship undergoes repairs. Odo must keep the Klingons and Romulans apart, and we know from O’Brien’s first time jump that he doesn’t succeed at this. Indeed, the brawl at Quark’s is between the Klingons and Romulans, and we see it happen from both angles, with two Miles O’Briens involved. This is trippy and very well done, and only sets the stage for O’Brien’s second jump, in which he watches his future self open a panel in a corridor, set off a booby trap and die.
 
Colm Meaney is excellent as always, even as this episode charts new territory for him. He has to act alongside himself, check his own pulse to confirm his own death, and somehow hold it together as he watches disasters unfold. O’Brien actually sees his dead body twice, under different circumstances – no sooner has he changed history by helping to expose the three Klingons as a covert strike team sent to kill the Romulans when he zips forward in time to hear Bashir tell him that the radiation treatments he’s receiving to stop these temporal shenanigans will kill him.
 
I love that the O’Brien-Bashir relationship remains in full effect even as this craziness is occurring. Bashir is cool as a frozen cucumber throughout, accepting medical advice from his future self without batting an eyelash and greeting news of O’Brien’s impending death with a characteristic quip: “It could’ve been worse. It could’ve been me!” That this makes O’Brien laugh is just wonderful. These two know what to expect from one another now, and have become fast friends and trusted colleagues.
 
So O’Brien averts his own death twice, but in a final twist he moves forward through time again to see DS9 explode, with only a fraction of its inhabitants safely evacuated. His future self doesn’t know much, so when he returns to his own time, our O’Brien gets Sisko and the crew to start preparing for disaster. And he and Bashir hatch a technobabbly plan that will send O’Brien forward in time again, but only three hours this time, so he can find out what will happen.
 
And it turns out the Romulans are the issue this time – they consider the Dominion to be the biggest threat to the alpha quadrant, and decide to blow up the wormhole. O’Brien returns with this knowledge and Sisko routs this attempt, sending the Romulans packing. It isn’t often that both Klingons and Romulans hatch destructive plans in a single episode, but this seems like life aboard Deep Space Nine.
 
But wait, there is one final – and absolutely amazing – twist, one that stretches my suspension of disbelief but still knocks me out. Our Miles O’Brien, sent into the future at great risk to himself, actually dies and is replaced by his future counterpart, who now (I guess) comes from a future that never happened. I have tried and tried to get this to make sense in my head – if time can be rewritten and past O’Brien dies, how is future O’Brien still alive? – and it just doesn’t. But it’s awesome. There are no long-term effects of this switch. Miles is still Miles, only he has a few memories of a few hours that never happened. We need never mention this again. But I love it. I don’t get it, but I love it.
 
I don’t know if Colm Meaney is going to get a spotlight episode this challenging and interesting again, but I certainly hope so. He’s become one of the most dependable members of the cast, able to roll with anything the writers throw at him. Visionary is a fun story with some mind-bending temporal zig-zags, and it is only in retrospect that I realized that it actually pushed the Federation-Romulan story forward in an interesting way. Yes, this is more of a TNG storyline, and yes, the idea has been done before, but rarely this well. I’m going to call this one a winner.
 
Random stuff:
 
This is a great episode for Odo as well. His detective work leads to the arrest of the covert Klingon team, and he gets a few wonderful little jabs in. I love the bit where he reminds Sisko of how good he is, and I adored this quick exchange, which just rolled off of Rene Auberjonois’ tongue:
 
SISKO: Do you have any evidence besides the fact that Klingons hate Romulans?
ODO: Not yet. But don’t worry, I plan on investigating the Klingons, the Bajorans, Quark, the visiting Terrelians.
SISKO: You think Quark had something to do with this?
ODO: I always investigate Quark.
 
There’s also an interesting sidebar in which the Romulans figure out that Odo is in love with Kira. She rants to Odo about how ridiculous a notion that is, and Auberjonois gets another chance to pretend to agree with her.
 
O’Brien hangs a dartboard in Quark’s for the first time in this episode, and I understand that dartboard will be there for the rest of the series. It’s already worth it for the gag in which Quark tosses all the darts at once and accidentally impales Morn.
 
Tomorrow, Distant Voices. Onward!