Now that is how to end a season!
I’ve enjoyed season 3 of Deep Space Nine, despite the odd stumer here and there, precisely because of the introduction of the Dominion as a background threat, one that gave the series an underlying spine and an overarching purpose. It’s been approached carefully, slowly, a shadow cast rather than an overt, ever-present danger that might have begun to bore its audience.
But the stakes do have to be raised at some point, and in the final seven words of season 3, they went up exponentially, a perfect moment of destabilisation to beguile the viewers’ thoughts over the break between seasons (which, in the case of this re-watch, is between now and next Tuesday).
‘The Adversary’ began with a bit of misdirection, Sisko’s final Commander’s Log entry. Good old Ben has finally been promoted to match up with the two leading figures of our predecessor series: he is now Captain Sisko, to everyone’s delight. But the hinted-at development, that this elevation may mean transfer, command of a Starship, that this episode will be about contriving a reason for Sisko to stay at DS9, is a red herring.
What happens is that Ambassador Krejinsky comes not merely bearing congratulations but news. The Tzenkethi have overthrown their Autarch in a Civil War, a revival of hostilities towards the Federation may ensue, and the Defiant is needed to fly the flag at the border. A full crew sets out.
That trouble is ahead is signaled by Chief O’Brien continually hearing noises off. Then, in warp, the Defiant is suddenly taken out of the Bridge’s control: it cloaks, raises its force-fields, warms up its photon torpedoes and makes ready to attack the Tzenkethi, to precipitate war.
It is a Dominion move: the Ambassador is really a Changeling: there was no Tzenkethi civil war.
Captain Sisko has no choice: if the Changeling cannot be found, if control of the ship cannot be regained, the Auto-Destruct sequence must be initiated. And as the episode moves on, as the increasingly tense and suspicious hunt proves fruitless, a ten minute countdown is initiated.
Naturally, there still being four seasons left, disaster is averted, but not without cost, and the set-up,coming in a season climax, would have made for one spectacular final episode if DS9 hadn’t been quite so popular. The Chief is committed to one of his usual mechanical miracle rescues when the Changeling, having duplicated Odo, appears, closely followed by the real Odo, or is it?
The Adversary snaps,attacks O’Brien. Odo grapples with him, forces him against the unshielded warp core, and kills him. He has become the first Changeling to ever harm another. His fellow Changeling whispers words to him that we cannot hear, as O’Brien restores control, the Auto-Destruct is cancelled with seconds to spare, and the Defiant heads for home.
A final senior staff meeting closes out both episode and season. Security Commander Eddington, Peter Lauritson enjoying a rare, full-length guest appearance, confirms the real Ambassador Krejinsky to be missing, feared kidnapped or dead. And Odo arrives, to pass on those final words, that light the match for season 4.
“You are too late. We are everywhere.”