|The duplicitous Minister Jaro (Frank Langella)|
Kira has been removed from her position as Bajoran liaison to Deep Space 9, replaced by Li Nalas (Richard Beymer) in a bid to increase Minister Jaro's political influence. Given some leave time, Kira accepts an invitation from Vedek Bareil (Philip Anglim), joining him at the monastery on Bajor. When Bareil gives her access to the Orb of Prophecy, to help show her future path to her, she is disturbed by what she sees.
More disturbing still are the developments in Bajor's capital city. The provisional government is losing more and more support, and The Circle is growing in strength. Sisko meets with one of the military leaders. He comes away convinced that The Circle is planning a coup, and that the military cannot be counted on to support the government when that happens. When the station gets information that The Circle is receiving arms smuggled through Deep Space 9, Sisko decides it is time to act - if it's not already too late!
Commander Sisko: It's hard to believe that this time last season, Brooks was often wooden and Sisko was flat and ill-defined. By now, at a point still fairly early in the series, Brooks' performance has become regularly outstanding, and Sisko has become my favorite Trek lead.
Sisko has a wonderful scene in the teaser opposite Jaro, in which he very pleasantly tells the Minister exactly what he thinks of him without once actually coming out and directly insulting the man. He shows his appreciation to Kira by emphatically stating that "no one can" replace her, and by promising to her that he will get her back.
Major Kira: Taken out of the command structure, she feels useless and doesn't really know how to cope with that. She is clearly drawn to Vedek Bareil, but resists that, even after an encounter with the Orb of Prophecy. Kira is known for having disagreements with Starfleet, but she has no sympathy for The Circle. "If you want to change the government, vote to change it," she tells a representative of The Circle, comparing their planned coup with knifing somebody in the back.
Odo: When Quark comes to him to tell him that the Circle is heavily armed, Odo doesn't dismiss him. He recognizes that Quark is genuinely scared, and trusts that Quark can get information from people who would never talk to him. Odo has his own ways of getting information, of course, and his shapeshifting abilities help him to gain some critical intelligence about the true source of The Circle's weaponry.
Vedek Winn: Continues to be the gently pleasant, open face of evil. She's all smiles, but her acid is unmistakable as she reprimands Vedek Bareil for allowing Kira to come into contact with an Orb, calling his failure to clear it with the Council "discourteous." The ending scene makes plain that she is still angling to become the next Kai. While she is being very careful about drawing certain alliances, she knows that her order is small, and that she will have to take some chances in order to achieve her ambitions.
Minister Jaro: Frank Langella is even better here than in The Homecoming, and we learn a lot more about Jaro in this episode. He seems to be the definition of unflappable. He remains calm when Sisko so very diplomatically belittles him in the teaser, having no trouble switching gears to discussing the problems posed by The Circle. He is equally calm opposite an intransigent Major Kira. He presents himself as reasonable, even when he's behaving unreasonably. In that way he's really quite a good match with Vedek Winn, and it's good to see these two fine actors and interesting characters share some screen time in this episode.
The Homecoming was a very good season premiere. The Circle is even better. All the background strands about Bajor are coming to the foreground here, with all the different agendas and factions seeming ready to tear the planet apart.
The Circle is itself a disturbingly plausible organization. We've all seen groups run by very sincere-seeming people, determined to return to "the old ways" while seeing anything from the past century as a turn away from true "values." It's not hard to find historical examples of such groups gaining power, particularly in difficult times. With a weak provisional government and civil and religious unrest, The Circle's coup is far from implausible.
The episode is tightly-paced, making good use of elements from The Homecoming and from the previous season. The ending raises the stakes nicely, with Sisko's hands effectively tied as everything begins falling apart.
I'm just hoping the next episode doesn't see it all conveniently fixed. Obviously, Sisko won't be abandoning the station, so obviously The Circle won't outright drive Starfleet away from Bajor. But even if Sisko wins a victory, I hope it isn't a complete one. Events such as the ones portrayed should have long-term repercussions. I will be very annoyed if the next episode ends with everything exactly as it was before.
Overall Rating: 10/10