Sisko is preparing for first contact with the Wadi, a race from the Gamma Quadrant. No sooner has he begun introductions, however, than the leader of the aliens demands to be taken to Quark's, to play games. Quark is only too happy to act as an "ambassador of goodwill," particularly when he sees the gemstones these aliens carry. But when they win a few spins of the Dabo wheel too many, Quark attempts to cheat.
The Wadi are, surprisingly, not outraged at Quark's attempt. Instead, they introduce him to a new game - Chula. He is given four pieces to move safely to the end of an elaborate maze. What Quark doesn't realize is that the pieces are actually members of the crew: Sisko, Kira, Dax, and Dr. Bashir - and that he is literally playing with their lives!
Commander Sisko: Avery Brooks struggles his way through a truly terrible scene in which Sisko talks to his son, Jake, about women. He comes across as horribly wooden, managing to appear both over- and under-rehearsed at the same time. He is much better in the main body of the episode, as Sisko tries to deal with the puzzle of finding himself in a maze and then with the jeopardy of the challenges the four "players" encounter along the way.
Major Kira: Of the four, she reacts the most badly. Dr. Bashir's observation that they may be the subjects of a "behavioral test" probably sparks some very bad memories of the Cardassian Occupation, as she reacts with a mix of anger and panic.
Quark: Although his own greed is what creates the situation, Quark isn't shown as entirely irredeemable. Although he is initially enthusiastic about the Wadi game, his reaction when he realizes exactly what is going on shows an appreciation of what he is playing for. He willingly sacrifices profit to bring his players home on "the safer path." At the final stretch, he decides he is willing to risk more danger, but this isn't entirely based on greed. As he explains to Odo, the increased risk has the side benefit of skipping a full level of the game, bringing Sisko and the others home in a single move.
Odo: When Jake alerts him to Commander Sisko's disappearance, he takes the disappearance very seriously. He remains territorial about his position as "chief of security" around his Starfleet counterpart. He prefers to take the most direct approach to solving the problem - even if it involves storming aboard the Wadi ship - but when that fails, he is willing to trust Quark's gambler's instincts... though not until Quark explains his reasoning.
Dax/Bashir: As the two scientists in the group, it's not surprising that they react with the least outrage and the most curiosity to the Wadi maze. Both seem to almost enjoy dealing with the challenges that come their way, at least until the challenges turn deadly near the end.
Though I'm aware this episode is rather poorly-regarded by Trek fandom, I have to confess to enjoying it. It's not exactly dripping with jeopardy. The very fact that the four "players" are all regulars tells us up front that they are in no real danger. Still, it's inventively staged, well-paced, and peppered with some good dialogue and nice performances.
The sets for the Wadi maze are particularly good. It's fairly obvious that Sisko and company are just passing from room to hall and back to the same room and hall again (the Cube trick, if you will). But it's well enough designed and shot that it does its job in being visually interesting. More varied lighting to change the atmosphere of the set as they move from one room to another would have done even more, but it's a generally well-directed episode (a couple of overly obvious jump cuts notwithstanding), so I'll give this a pass.
Not much else to say here. This is a pure popcorn episode, with no great underlying message. But it's a popcorn episode that I liked, and found to be substantially better than its reputation would suggest.
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