|Odo explores his roots.|
In the wake of the Jem'Hadar's ultimatum, Sisko reports to Starfleet while Kira and the command staff run battle simulations. They all come back with the same result: The Jem'Hadar boarding the station within two hours of engagement. Sisko comes back with a new trump card: the Defiant, a new Starfleet ship, complete with cloaking device, originally designed for combat with the Borg.
Sisko's new mission is to use the Defiant to go through the wormhole. The hope is to seek out The Founders, the fabled (possibly mythical) rulers of The Dominion, to negotiate. But they will have to brave several brushes with the Jem'Hadar to reach their goal. And the closer they get to the heart of The Dominion, the more Odo feels himself called - to a rogue Class M planet, adrift in the Omarion Nebula...
Commander Sisko: Has come to think of Deep Space 9 as home, something that Jake is quick to notice on their return from Earth. Though he may be uncomfortable with having been dubbed "Emissary" by the Bajorans, he is fierce in his protection of Bajor. Part 1 sees him announce to Jake that he is unwilling to let the Dominion have Bajor; Part 2 shows how far he is willing to go to prove that. He has become increasingly disillusioned with the Admiralty, reflecting how proud he used to be to go through the doors at Starfleet in such a way that his lack of pride in them shows all too clearly.
Major Kira: Her friendship with Odo is shown as she stands up for Odo's position to Sisko. When Sisko points out that he understands Starfleet's decision, even if he disagrees with it - that Odo is "not a team player" - Kira fiercely defends him, pointing out that he gets results. She continues to be a friend to Odo when she accompanies him to the changeling homeworld. She encourages him in reconnecting with his people. She never forgets her duty to Sisko and the others, however, continually attempting to find a way to contact them even after the Changeling matriarch (Salome Jens) forbids her to send any communications.
Odo: Sisko's return sees Odo's status as head of security diminished. He is still chief of security in all matters not pertaining to Starfleet... but in any matter that does impact Starfleet, he must report to Starfleet Commander Eddington (Kenneth Marshall). Odo reacts exactly as he did the last time he saw his authority threatened: He offers his resignation. This seemingly cuts all ties with Starfleet just as he discovers his own homeworld. Still, his friendship with Kira and his loyalty to the Deep Space 9 crew show themselves when he is forced to make a hard choice at the climax.
Dax: What died on top of her head? I've consistently enjoyed Terry Farrell's Dax, but if this is her new look for Season Three, then I hope her screentime is minimal until it runs its course. I've never really been one to notice hairstyles... but the "dead animal on top of head" look is so bad as to be genuinely distracting!
CHANGES FOR SEASON THREE
Perhaps under the theory that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," relatively little changed in the show's basic format between Seasons One and Two. With the momentous events of Season Two's finale, however, along with Deep Space 9's rating struggles, some very visible changes have been made to the series for Season Three.
The introduction of the Defiant is the most visible of these. The series now has its own starship, so that Sisko and his crew can travel to different parts of space in a starship. I'm glad the show had two seasons without this feature, as it forced the show to either stay on the station or put the characters in a position of relative weakness in every episode. However, given the developments of The Jem'Hadar, this change makes sense. Deep Space 9 is now effectively the front line of a possible (in fact, very likely) war with the Dominion. Given that, they need more military strength of their own.
Another aspect of the Defiant that makes it work within the show's tone and context is that it has design flaws. When he looks over the ship, O'Brien comes up with a huge list of areas needing maintenance. Many of the crew quarters don't yet have life support. The engines are unreliable at full power, because the ship is "overgunned and overpowered." It has no luxuries, and its capabilities are hobbled by its limitations. Another Enterprise would seem out of place in the gritty, flawed world of Deep Space 9. But a ship that is itself full of flaws and limitations that must be worked around? That suits the show just fine.
The Search picks up the threads of The Jem'Hadar, with Starfleet reacting to the Jem'Hadar threat in typical Starfleet fashion: by trying to make peace. Part 1 sees Sisko attempting to initiate peace negotiations from a position of strength, by bringing the Defiant into the Dominion's territory. Part 2 sees Starfleet negotiating from a weaker position. Starfleet appears willing to buy peace at any price, much to Sisko's frustration, as he realizes what the Stafleet admiralty will not: War is a terrible thing, but capitulation to tyranny is worse - and it's clear to Sisko, and us, that capitulation to the Dominion in the way Starfleet is prepared to do in Part 2 will only lead to the Dominion gaining a larger and larger foothold in the Alpha Quadrant, until they move to seize the Quadrant for themselves.
Of the two episodes, it's not surprising that Part One is the stronger. As I've noted in the past, the first episode of almost any two-parter generally has the advantage, in that its entire construction - building toward a cliffhanger - is to constrict the characters into an ever-tightening noose. The resolution, meanwhile, must free them from that noose - a process that can often lead to an anticlimax.
There's also a sharp divide in tone between Parts One and Two. Part One, written by Ronald D. Moore, is a thriller. Defiant infiltrates the Dominion Space using its cloaking device. Then we get the equivalent of a submarine running silent as it hides from passing Jem'Hadar warships. It explodes into action at the episode's end, just in time for a genuinely startling cliffhanger.
Part Two, from Ira Steven Behr, has some excellent scenes. All of the material involving Kira, Odo, and the shapeshifters is very good, with Rene Auberjonois on particularly fine form. But the scenes back on the station are much weaker, as the Federation's treaty with the Dominion proceeds far too quickly. The tone just feels off, with Starfleet capitulating to the Dominion far too quickly and easily, seemingly just to prompt Sisko and his crew to join with Garak for a big action climax. It's all very entertaining, but it doesn't seem to fit.
...Some of which is explained by an ending twist, albeit at the price of essentially nullifying a full half of Part Two. I might feel cheated at this ending, but so much of the station scenes feels so off-kilter anyway, that it actually serves to make sense of it. It may even be foreshadowed, at least a bit, when Sisko has a conversation with Garak and is genuinely surprised at how much he and Garak think alike.
In any case, the ending does at leat allow for some substantial development to the arc involving the Dominion. At the same time, we get a lot of good character material for Odo, which Rene Auberjonois responds to with his accustomed excellence. Even with Part Two being noticeably weaker than Part One, this remains a strong story overall, and a fine start to Deep Space 9's third season.
Overall Rating: 8/10
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