|Prisoners of the Jem'Hadar|
Hoping to spend some one-on-one time with his son, Sisko seizes on Jake's need to complete a science project to propose a trip to the Gamma Quadrant. Jake can conduct a survey of an uninhabited planet, while they can enjoy some time together away from the station. That plan is slightly complicated when Jake insists on bringing Nog, who also needs to complete the project in order to stay in school... and then it goes all but totally awry when Quark insists on coming along, supposedly to look out for Nog but in reality to try to get close to Sisko for a business proposition.
After Quark's constant whining drives Jake and Nog away from the campsite, he and Sisko receive some unexpected visitors: Eris (Molly Hagan), a young woman fleeing for her life, and her pursuers - a race known as the Jem'Hadar, the foot soldiers of the Dominion. Sisko and Quark are taken captive with Eris, all three of them thrust into a lethal containment barrier. As Sisko works on a way to escape from inside, Jake and Nog try to work the runabout in order to go back to the station for help. But the Jem'Hadar are already on their way to Deep Space 9, armed with an ultimatum for the beings in the Alpha Quadrant: They are to stay on their side of the wormhole, or face the full wrath of the Dominion!
Commander Sisko: From the moment he and Quark are captured, he remains alert to the possibilities of escape. He quickly determines that they are only lightly guarded, with the Jem'Hadar trusting the energy barrier to keep them confined. He observes that they are "overconfident," and determines to turn that against them. He deals with Quark with only very thinly-veiled dislike, but when Quark finally stands up for himself, he shows the Ferengi a modicum of respect. He also refuses to leave Quark behind after making the escape.
Quark: Spends the first half of the episode being a general irritant. He whines about bugs and food. Once captured, he screams and shouts and makes a nuisance of himself until one of the Jem'Hadar comes to silence him. Just as it appears Quark has hit a low point, though, he gets a great little scene in which he snaps at Sisko for belittling him so often. Quark recites a list of humanity's sins, things the Ferengi have never been guilty of, and concludes by telling Sisko that the Ferengi "are nothing like (humans). We're better."
Jake/Nog: Jake's protectiveness of Nog, first seen when he privately tutored Nog to read, shows itself again as he presses his father to allow Nog to come along. He knows that Nog is hanging to his schooling by his fingertips, and he will do what's necessary to keep Nog on track. For his part, Nog genuinely works on the science project, and Sisko congratulates him on his good work. While Nog seems more like a liability than anything else while Jake is trying to disable the runabout's autopilot, it is Nog's insistence on trying things Jake knows will not work that leads Jake to the solution.
Hot Alien Space Babe of the Week: Eris (Molly Hagan) is a Vorta, a member of a race subjugated by the Dominion and specifically the daughter of a family that had criticized that organization. As a result, the Dominion has "made an example" of her family by sending the Jem'Hadar after them. She tells Sisko that no one escapes the Jem'Hadar. Her race has telekinetic abilities, which make her useful to the Jem'Hadar, and to Sisko and Quark in making their escape.
The Jem'Hadar: The foot-soldiers of The Dominion, the major force of the Gamma Quadrant. "No one escapes the Jem'Hadar," the woman tells Sisko. They are utterly relentless, and completely ruthless. "Everything about them is lethal." They make short work of Deep Space 9's defenses, an effective demonstration as they lay out their ultimatum. Even more effective is the list of ships they have already destroyed, which they hand to Kira on a data-pad taken from the colony of New Bajor... whose inhabitants the Jem'Hadar observe "fought well, for a spiritual people." Nana Visitor's nonverbal reaction to this really sells the moment, as both Kira and the viewer realizes what has happened to that colony.
For the second season running, the season finale opens looking like an ordinary "little" episode - even like a bit of filler. Jake's science experiment is used an excuse for some father/son bonding, and Quark and Nog end up coming along for the ride? That's the sort of setup that, on initial transmission, would have me scanning the TV listings to see if there was anything more interesting on the other side of the dial.
As with In the Hands of the Prophets, this low-key start seems designed to lull viewers into a sense of complacency before pulling the rug out from under them. The scope broadens from something small, personal, and quiet at the beginning into something epic by the end, with probably the largest-scale action scenes televised Trek had seen up to that point. It's quite effective - even if that first fifteen minutes perhaps stretches a little too long before the Jem'Hadar actually arrive.
The story is quite simple, a basic capture/escape/rescue scenario. But the story is just a means to accomplish the episode's true agenda: To transform the Dominion from something intangible into a concrete, formidable threat, one we aren't certain Starfleet can defeat. The episode succeeds in this. The Dominion technology is clearly shown to be more advanced than Federation technology, while their final assault on the Galaxy Class Odyssey is a demonstration of "how far they're willing to go."
Essentially, this episode leaves Deep Space 9, both show and station, in a significantly different position than it was even one episode earlier. Dark hints about the Dominion have been sprinkled throughout the season. Here, those hints are delivered on. The future of exploration into the Gamma Quadrant is in severe doubt, with the Dominion ultimatum being one they're clearly capable of enforcing. More to the point, Starfleet knows that the Dominion is out there, and Sisko knows that his station will now be the site of the first battle when (I suspect it's more "when" than "if") the Dominion comes through to them. The season ends with the individual story resolved, but plenty of uncertainty hanging over the changed situation of the station, the wormhole, and the fragile and fragmented peace.
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