Though we’re well into the block of DS9 episodes I have previously seen, I have to confess I have no recollection of this unexpected mid-season two-parter. Indeed, as this extended story is such a massive game-changer, moving the Dominion War out of its Phoney War stage and into a formal shooting match, there were times when I wondered if my memories were even more scanty, and that this was going to lead to the (temporary) abandonment of the station now, and not at season end.
But on this I was wrong, and happily wrong. It is, nonetheless, a foreshadowing of the inevitable to come, as betrayal follows betrayal, and the entire basis of the series shifts inexorably. To think that this all begins with a typically trivial open to the first part, as Odo reluctantly abandons his bed and reinstals all his shape-shifting gear in his quarters, under some one-sided joshing about romance from the Major, until Kira is summoned to the bridge over a mystery transmission from the Gamma quadrant.
It’s in a highly secret Cardassian code known only to two people, Garak and his mentor/unacknowledged father, Enabran Tain, and it’s a cry for help. Garak persuades Sisko to allow him a runabout, and the unlikely command of Worf (there’s an odd couple for you) to investigate for potential survivors of the disastrous Gamma Quadrant battle. All it leads to is overwhelming Jem’hadar odds and an asteroid internment camp with a motley group of prisoners.
These include Tain, near death from his heart, Klingon General Martok, a Romulan female, a robotic Breen. Oh yes, and Doctor Bashir.
This didn’t come as the surprise it ought to as my regular consultation of Memory Alpha had already revealed that our Bashir had been replaced by a Changeling four weeks ago, and the one we’ve seen over the last couple of episodes had been the wrong one, which was a shame. Meanwhile, the Changeling Bashir is still unsuspected on DS9, where things have suddenly gone tits-up.
Federation listening posts inside the Gamma Quadrant are going out one by one. A Jem’hadar fleet is on the move towards the Wormhole. Sisko puts the station on battle alert and a Federation fleet is on its way. The danger is so great, Sisko decides to take the ultimate fallback option: seal the Wormhole, even if Worf and Garak are trapped on the other side.
But someone sabotages the super-scientific rays that will do that. instead, the Wormhole is widened and stabilised so that it can now never be closed. And a Dominion fleet emerges, ready to overwhelm D9. End of part 1.
But they don’t attack. Instead, they move off towards Cardassian space, with Gul Dukat following. And here’s where the bomb drops. Cardassia has a new leader. He’s been negotiating with the Dominion for months. Cardassia has joined the Dominion. It will become strong again, great again. It will wipe out the Klingons. It will take back what it used to have. Bajor is not mentioned in this. But the new Cardassia leader, Dukat, promises Sisko that he is coming for Deep Space Nine.
So we switch backwards and forwards between the two halves of this story. On the internment camp asteroid, Worf distracts by winning gladiatorial fight after fight, his honour refusing to allow himself to yield. Garak fights another fight, against his claustrophobia, in a tiny, dark space, changing relays by hannd to contact the runabout and transport out.
At DS9, forces build. Chancellor Gowron brings a wounded Klingon fleet to the fight, and reactivates the Accords he previously broke. A Romulan fleet comes to stand by the Federation and the Klingons. A Dominion/Cardassian fleet approaches. Everyone is ready for the mother of all battles, but no-one can find the enemy. And Changeling-Bashir has stolen a runabout and is heading for Bajor’s sun with a bomb that, if detonated within the sun, will send it supernova, wiping out the entire system, DS9 and three spacefleets.
At this critical moment, a priority one message comes from the Gamma Quadrant from Bashir. Sisko, already aware that there’s a Changeling on board DS9, after Changeling-Bashir has, cunningly and mis-directingly, proposed this, immediately susses things out and sends the Defiant, under Kira and Dax, to destroy the runabout. Which, after risking going to warp inside a solar system, they succeed in doing. The day is saved.
The only immediate effect is the installation of a permanent Klingon military force on the station, under the command of General Martok, as recommended by Worf. Everyone’s back, everyone’s back to normal. But it’s a new normal, are set normal, that will now prevail until the end of Deep Space Nine. I very much look forward to it.
I’ve left out a lot of what happens. The mark of a well-written story is that the over-arching story accommodates several smaller, more personal tales, both absorbing and showcasing hese within its major structure, in perfect balance. Worf’s fights. Garak’s need for Tan’s acceptance and his subsequent confrontation with his fears. Zia’s choice between her father and Garak, between two sides at war. All these things are handled with nuance and conviction. If you want to call these a B story, you’d be wrong, because they are integrated within the A story, so that all this pair of episodes is an A story, and indeed an A+ story, but they are worthy of the A story: nothing falls short here.
So the ground rules change. And I look forward to next week’s episode most fervently.