I knew in advance that this episode featured the return of Kenneth Marshall, former Security Chief Michael Eddington, now a Maquis leader. It’s a sequel to the Season 4 episode in which Eddington turned against Starfleet, and Sisko vowed to bring him in.
In essence, it’s a basic Police story, and indeed, for the back half of the episode, the show positions itself as a re-model of Les Miserables, with Sisko as Inspector Javert and Eddington as Valjean. Not having read the book, nor seen any adaptation of it, I can’t say whether the parallel is appropriate beyond the limited use made of it, but the episode was very much about Sisko’s obsession with the man who betrayed Starfleet and, more pertinently, betrayed him.
It was this aspect that raised the episode above its already strong and well-made status as an exciting adventure. At every stage, Eddington is ahead of Sisko: he out-thinks, out-anticipates, out-manoeuvres not just Sisko but also Captain Sanders of the Malinche, who is given the mission of replacing Sisko as Eddington’s hunter. Eddington is so far ahead of the game that he can comfortably create situations where Sisko is completely at his mercy, and forego the chance to kill his pursuer, because that’s not his, or the Maquis’s way.
And what makes the episode so strong is that Eddington is right. Sisko is obsessed with him. Eddington has beaten him, and Sisko’s pride won’t let him live with it.
Then there’s the fact that Eddington can defend his actions by reference to the genuine grievance the displaced colonists have at having their planets, their homes, handed over to the Cardassians, in an act of heavily-Kissingeresque realpolitik. Sisko counters with an accusation that might come from the situation of the Palestinians, and their Arab backers, that these victims are being kept in misery and destitution by the Maquis/PLO feeding them an impossible-to-realise dream of return, instead of letting them rebuild their lives realistically and escape their situation.
But Sisko is truly mad on this score, though he sees this as fulfilling his duty to Starfleet to bring in a traitor, ‘the’ traitor. And, unlike Les Miserables but in keeping with an ongoing series of which he is the hero, Javert captures and brings Valjean to justice.
This is where the use of the book becomes sophisticated. It’s a favourite of Eddington’s, from which Sisko discerns that the ex-Starfleet man sees himself as the hero, put upon but doing good, the protector. Quite cynically, in order to create circumstances in which Eddington’s self-image will force him to the sacrifice of surrender, Sisko steps entirely out of character and adopts the biogenetic tactics the Maquis are using: he explodes a bomb in the atmosphere of a Maquis colony planet, seeding its atmosphere with a chemical fatal to humans, just as Eddington has done to a Cardassian colony.
And, having revealed his ruthlessness, Sisko is able to manoeuvre Eddington into surrendering to prevent him repeating the attack with another world.
All of which Sisko does without Starfleet sanction.
It goes without saying that this is an horrific action, as cynical and dirty as any of Jack Bauer’s resorts to torture in 24. As Anthony Trollope was fond of saying, one cannot touch pitch without oneself being defiled, not that I expect for one second that DS9 will display any degree of concern about Sisko’s ruthlessness. Indeed, the close is all smugly congratulatory about his actions, and there’s a cheap payoff to the actual dilemma of the refugees of a poisoned planet destroyed in order to get one man: why, they and the displaced Cardassians will just swap planets and live happily ever after, a write-off that doesn’t survive a second’s thinking about the reality, or the morality, of such things.
It’s these moral considerations, no matter how little they’re expressed, that make this such a strong episode. Credit too for making Eddington a plausible hero, instead of a swivel-eyed fanatic with an obviously straw-cause, which would have dynamited everything the episode sought to do.
Thinking about it, although we’re clearly supposed to applaud Sisko – and the Producers wanted us to see his actions as something the more daredevil Kirk would have done but that Picard would have revolted against – the episode is actually genuinely subversive so far as what it says about Sisko and, ultimately, his vanity.