It’s not all that long ago that I was worrying about getting stale on DS9, wondering whether I should take a break. But it’s episodes like this two-parter, that I didn’t at first realise was a two-parter, that restore my enthusiasm for this series. This was what it should have been all the time, a high-stakes, wide-ranging, game-changing story that involved the very roots of the whole series. My one regret was that when I come to the next episode, I hardly dare hope, let alone expect, that it will live up to this standard.
“Homefront” began in typical fashion, with an open full of trivia. Odo is full of wrath towards Jardzia for her mischievous habit of sneaking in and shifting his furniture whilst he’s in his gelatinous state, Bashir and the Chief are fighting the Battle of Britain from the holosuite, complete with flying gear, Quark is being Quark. Oh, there’s this puzzling matter of the Wormhole opening and closing at random, without any (visible) ships coming through from the Gamma Quadrant, but it’s all very light.
And then the programme switched up through the gears. There has been a conference on Earth with the Romulans, at which a bomb exploded, killing 27 people. It’s the first such atrocity on the paradise planet that Earth has become in over a century. And the evidence indicates that it was contrived by a Changeling.
Sisko is summoned to Earth, along with Odo, by his former Captain, now Vic-Admiral Leyton (Robert Foxworth). He takes along Jake, so that the two of them can also spend some time with his father, Joseph (Brock Peters), who is still running his restaurant in New Orleans, and refusing to co-operate with his Doctor over preserving his health.
But Leyton hasn’t summoned Sisko home because he might have left a detail or two out of his report. Sisko is Starfleet’s best officer at fighting Changelings: Leyton makes him Acting-Chief of Security for the planet.
The main problem Sisko faces, initially, seems to be cultural. Earth is a Paradise planet, peaceful, happy, undisturbed. If it is under threat of a Dominion attack, if the Wormhole’s aberrant activity was actually cloaked Dominion starships entering the Alpha Quadrant, that peace will have to be radically rearranged by the security provisions required to identify and keep out Changelings.
The Federation President, Jaresh-Inyo, little more than a quiet bureaucrat who only wants to keep things peaceful and as they are, is reluctant to sanction such steps, and even after a demonstration of how easy it is to sneak a Changeling – Odo – into his personal office, completely undetected, will only allow certain limited measures devised by Sisko, with Leyton’s encouragement, to be put in place.
What’s clear even from the first part, before things start getting spelled out in “Paradise Lost”, is just how much this will change things on Earth. I was ahead of the wavefront at that point, already recalling the infamous Vietnam line, ‘to save the village, we had to destroy the village’, which was paraphrased openly by Sisko in the second part. There was too much emphasis on Earth being a Paradise, but peaceful Paradises are entirely too vulnerable to suspicion, and violence.
Joseph Sisko demonstrated this aptly. Sure, behind that gloriously jovial, outgoing restaurateur exterior, he was a cantankerously stubborn bugger, refusing to let prolonging his life interfere with how he wanted to lead it, but his utter refusal to allow a blood test to ‘prove’ he hadn’t been replaced by a shapeshifter, his indignance at being asked to prove he was innocent, and by his own son who feared he was guilty, encapsulated all that was at risk.
Then the power went out, all over Earth, simultaneously. And Leyton got his way, with a Starfleet officer on every corner. Every corner, with a phaser-rifle.
I was confident there was no attack being planned. Some of it was that this was not quite halfway through the season, some that I was sure that, even with all my efforts to avoid spoilers, I would have heard of it. But most of it was that what did the Dominion need in attacking? Look what they stood to gain by simply creating the fear of one? They were on the way to destroying the Earth through its own paranoia. If this had been written after 9/11, instead of seven years before it, it couldn’t have been a better response to the actions of the Bush Administration.
But I was off the mark, and “Paradise Lost” had begin setting this up before a Changeling in Chief O’Brien’s shape sat down beside Sisko to cheerfully boast of their superiority to solids, and how much havoc they’d caused with only four Changelings on the whole of Earth.
No, this wasn’t a Changeling operation. It was entirely more sinister. It was the Big Lie in operation, and what made it so insidious was that it came from a palpably good man, doing what he genuinely thought was best, not for himself, not for his own power, but for the safety of his own. It was all a carefully calculated plot on the part of Leyton, which would end up with Starfleet taking military control of Earth, under him, for the Duration. Foxworth was superb in portraying a man who was betraying every principle he’d ever held, every duty he’d accepted, for the sake of what he saw was the higher good.
You could still see that, if he had succeeded, power would inevitably corrupt him, as it inevitably does, but at this point, Foxworth’s thoughts were forearth, and its preservation against the threat of the Dominion. To save the planet, we had to destroy the planet. It’s a dictum easy to mock, and despise for its illogic, its intolerance, its cruelty, its indifference to others’ thoughts, but you could see the roots in loyalty and duty from which the weed sprung.
In the end, it was both loyalty and disloyalty that brought Leyton down. His Executive Officer, Erika Benteen (played by TNG alumnus Susan Gibney is a cool, dispassionate manner) had been promoted to Captain, as had many of Leyton’s former officers. When she was ordered to fire on the Defiant, bringing evidence to Earth of Leyton’s treason, and carrying all the senior staff of DS9 on board, she was prepared to stop a fellow Starfleet craft, but not to destroy it.
It was the defining moment, but until that moment, all things were possible. The story could have gone anywhere from here, taken Deep Space Nine into any waters it chose. That it settled for what was the closest possible reset of the status quo was of no matter: it was an ending we were emotionally hoping for, and the episode covered such territory that there could be no real status quo. Things changed. The worms got out of the can.