To end season 2, this was very much more like it, a powerful episode of both immediate danger and long-range portent, being used as a teaser to draw back the audience for the season to come. At last, Deep Space Nine began to feel more like the series my twenty year old memories told me it was, and I can but hope that this opening will be followed up on in the manner it deserves. No spoilers, please!
The episode was the Federation’s first confrontation with the Dominion, of whom we have heard previous mention in passing in episode 7, as being known to the Ferengi, but not necessarily, it appears to the Federation itself. The Dominion, we must assume at this point, are the Federation’s opposite number in the Gamma Quadrant, albeit having much more in common with the Cardassian Empire than the human-dominated Federation.
It makes tremendous sense, if somewhat belated, to have someone/thing powerful in the Gamma Quadrant, that is not taking kindly to all these free and easy colonial incursions through the Wormhole, or Anomaly, as they call it at their end.
Of course, in classic Star Trek fashion, we approach this revelation via everyday comedy. Sisko, seeking some time alone with his son, volunteers to take Jake through the Wormhole to carry out his science project, by doing a planetary survey. To his dismay, Jake invites his best friend Nog, who is going to drop out of school otherwise. And to Sisko’s further dismay, if that be an adequate word, Quark invites himself along, to ‘protect’ Nog, and incidentally get on Sisko’s good side to get him to reverse his decision not to allow Quark to broadcast advertisements through the station’s PA. Public broadcasting, eh? The bastards.
So everyone shoots off in civilian clothing and lands on this virgin planet, all beautiful forests and pure, unspoiled nature. Quark, of course, hates every minute of it. His ears itch, his nose runs, the place is full of dirt and bugs, and the whole planet is only fit for a complete strip-mining and excessive exploitation.
The episode lets this flawed idyll run longer than you’d expect, and wisely too. We know something is going to go badly wrong, but the low-key lead-up is less a means of tuning up the tension than a rather pleasant exercise in domestic freedom, though Quark’s constant suggestions that Sisko, and humanity in general, is racially prejudiced against Ferenghi provide a bit of serious thinking along the way.
Yes, it’s all good fun until someone loses an eye, or rather, in this instance, a frightened woman runs through the camp, telekinetically blasts Sisko, and then is captured by four tall, plug-ugly, brutish aliens, who also take Sisko and Quark. This is the Jem’Hadar, the shock troops of the Dominion.
In retrospect, once we have the full episode in our minds, there is a very clear structure to all this. It has been planned: the Dominion are laying down a warning, and a gauntlet to the Federation, though they want Sisko to believe that this encounter is mere happenstance.
Once we reach the serious part of the story, this splits into three strands. The first of these is Sisko, Quark and the runaway woman, Eris (played by Molly Hagen). They’re in a single containment circle, shielded by something lethal that the telekinetic Eris could blast, if only she wasn’t wearing a neck-collar that suppresses her abilities. Eris explains to us just what the Federation is facing, and is very fatalistic about the Jem’Hadar’s superiority, though Sisko only sees complacency. he and Quark, in turn, set about unpicking the complex lock on Eris’s collar.
The second of these strands is Jake and Nog. They’re a study in contrasts, Nog all panicky and cowardice, Jake determined to find out what has happened to his father. Yes, to some extent, that encapsulates the different relationships – father/son, nephew/uncle – not to mention the different cultural associations of Ferenghi and Human, but it’s in this latter respect that the episode comes dangerously close to mocking and dismissing the Ferenghi.
Once the boys have determined that they can’t hope to help, they beam back up to the runabout, intent on returning to DS9 and getting assistance. That they are not authorised to either instruct or bypass the autopilot is a barrier that Jake slowly overcomes, dismantling the autopilot and taking manual – but nervy – control.
However, DS9 doesn’t need their warning. The other part of the Dominion’s plan involves a ship materialising without warning from the wormhole, refusing to answer hails, and beaming a Jem’Hadar onto the bridge. He arrives within a containment field, which he quickly demonstrates has no effect on him. He brings a warning: that Sisko is a captive, indefinitely, and that the Dominion will no longer tolerate Federation incursions into the Gamma Quadrant.
The Federation aren’t prepared to just accept that. The Starship Odyssey, under Captain Keogh, is soon at the station, preparing for a rescue mission. The senior staff insist on accompanying him in the other two runabouts. They pass through the Wormhole into a peaceful scene: no challenges, no traps.
Practically the first thing they do find is the half-crippled runabout. O’Brien beams aboard to take command, just ahead of the appearance of three Dominion ships flying attack pattern. The Odyssey, assisted by the two functioning runabouts, resists, though the fight goes badly thanks to the superior Dominion weaponry. O’Brien’s craft can’t fight, but he is allowed a limited time to approach the planet.
Meanwhile, Quark has picked the lock on Eris’s collar, she’s blasted the containment field, and the trio are on the run, into the beautiful forests. They wouldn’t get very far, but O’Brien rescues them, beaming the trio aboard.
With mission accomplished, Captain Keogh breaks off the fight, signals a return. The engagement is over, with the Dominion the clear winners militarily. It’s not enough. I won’t say I predicted it, but I had a sense of foreboding from the moment Keogh was introduced as an old sparring partner of Dax. One of the Dominion craft makes a direct attack, a suicide run. It blows the Odyssey apart, instantly killing the entire crew. It is a declaration of War.
The survivors return to DS9, with the refugee Eris. The Federation has suspended all expeditions into the wormhole. Sisko recognises that when the Dominion come through the Wormhole, the first battle will be fought there, at DS9.
But Quark takes Sisko on one side, a private word, as a result of which Sisko turns his gun on Eris. Quark kept the neck-collar, thinking to market it for his profit. But there was no telekinesis suppressant elements to it: just an extremely complex lock. Eris could have used her power to blast the containment field at any time. The reason she didn’t was that the whole thing, from start to finish, was a set-up: the Jem’Hadar didn’t want Sisko to be a prisoner, they wanted him to escape, to take Etris back with him, to where she could be a very effective spy for the Dominion.
Eris isn’t that concerned about being exposed, rather amused. She retains her confidence that the Dominion and the Jem’Hadar are unstoppable. Then she teleports out. Where she goes is a mystery: the Chief cannot trace her emissions, and there are no ships or planets in range that she could have reached. The implication is that she’s committed suicide to avoid being questioned, but I don’t buy it. She’s too much confidence in the Jem’Hadar to give up so easily: I fully expect to see that lady again.
And thus Deep Space Nine season 2 ends. Though I’ve expressed many criticisms, week by week, and though there were a few fudges even in this splendid closer, overall, this was a step up on season 1, and it leaves the series in an ideal position for better things in season 3. Here’s hoping the show makes full use of the possibilities it has created.
I will be back to start finding out if it does in seven days.