|Worf finds himself suddenly in command.|
The Defiant has traveled to the Gamma Quadrant to meet with Hanok (James Cromwell), the Karemma minister who has been trading with the Federation through Quark. The meeting has only barely begun when two Jem'Hadar vessels appear. The Jem'Hadar attack Hanok's ship to punish them for dealing with the Federation. The Karemma ship breaks and runs, taking cover in the turbulent atmosphere of a nearby gas giant. The Jem'Hadar follow the Karemma ship, and Sisko orders the Defiant in after them.
The atmosphere all but eliminates visibility, forcing the Defiant to rely on sensors and ingenuity. A trick from Kira's days fighting the Cardassians allows them to search for nearby ships - but at the cost of giving away their own position. The stresses from both combat and the atmosphere take their toll, making it as much a battle to keep the ship together as to find and neutralize the Jem'Hadar and rescue the Karemma.
Then the Jem'Hadar score a direct hit on the Defiant, leaving the ship crippled and rendering the bridge useless!
Capt. Sisko: Very conscious of his responsibility to protect the Karemma. How can Starfleet have dealings in the Gamma Quadrant, after all, if they can't protect those they deal with? He pushes his ship past its limits, and shows ingenuity that matches his determination. When he believes Jadzia is dead, we see him reacting nonverbally, but he doesn't lose focus on the fight at hand.
Major Kira: Though I have issues with the repetitive nature of some her scenes in the second half, I will say here that Nana Visitor does a tremendous job with those scenes. She conveys a lot of emotion as she talks to the wounded Sisko, trying to keep him conscious. I wish her monologues revealed more, as most of what she discusses is ground already tread: That she recognizes Sisko's discomfort at being the Emissary, but still thinks of him that way and has difficulty relaxing around him.
Worf: When Sisko is injured at the episode's midpoint, Worf takes over as commander of the ship, with O'Brien acting as his second in command. Worf's instinct is to treat his remaining crew - O'Brien's engineers - as warriors, barking orders and expecting instant obedience. O'Brien takes him aside and asks him to give the engineers a bit of breathing room to solve problems on their own ("what they're good at"), but he does so respectfully. O'Brien's nudge pays off when Worf works with the engineers to execute a trap for the Jem'Hadar. It's all potentially hackneyed, but Michael Dorn and the writers are smart enough to make Worf appear uncomfortable when approaching the men or paying compliments, both things that run counter to his nature. As a result, these fairly unoriginal interactions still manage to work.
Quark: Acting as the intermediary between the Federation and the Karemma, Quark gives into his own nature: He cheats both sides to maximize his own profits. Hanok is furious, of course, threatening to sabotage all of Quark's dealings in the Gamma Quadrant. But Quark's other defining trait is persistence. He works on Hanok, pushing past the other man's resistance. Quark's ode to the joy of gambling and the thrill of risk is genuinely seductive, and Armin Shimerman is wonderful in these scenes.
Not for the first time, a DS9 episode begins as an action piece only to morph into a character drama. Starship Down has excellent scenes, both of tension and of character drama, though the end result somehow adds up to a bit less than the sum of its parts.
Which is not to say it's a bad episode. The first twenty minutes are particularly strong, with Star Trek space combat doing what it does best: Evoking submarine imagery to create tension not out of the shooting but out of the spaces between it. The lack of visibility effectively forces the Defiant to use sonar to detect the other vessels, and they have to get close to be able to tell whether they have found the ships they need to destroy or the ship they need to rescue - A dilemma that doesn't face the Jem'Hadar, as they intend to destroy everyone. This stacks the odds against our heroes rather nicely.
At about the 20 minute mark, however, the episode lets the tension slacken. There isn't the budget to make this a full-length episode just about the conflict, so the writers have the ship get badly damaged, the characters separated into various areas. From here until the climax, Starship Down becomes almost pure character drama. Much of it is good: The Worf/O'Brien scenes anchor the story while honing the development of Worf in his new role; the Quark/Hanok scenes are a lot of fun, with some good dialogue and smart writing; and the Dax/Julian scenes balance out their comfortable friendship now against Julian's early romantic pursuit of her in Season One (and confirm my suspicion that Dax actually quite enjoyed being chased).
The Sisko/Kira scenes don't work for me, however. This is through no fault of Nana Visitor, who does a splendid job with her material. But by rendering Sisko insensible, these scenes are made into Kira monologues. This can work for a single scene, but not for three or four scenes. After a while, listening to Kira tell (very dull) Bajoran stories, watching her pray, and watching her talk about her difficulty balancing Sisko the captain against Sisko the Emissary just... becomes a bit dull, frankly. Since Sisko isn't really contributing a side to the conversation, it's just Kira's inner monologue. Nana Visitor may be acting up a storm, but there's very little here that's new for her character, and I quickly found my interest in these scenes waning.
The climax manages to wrap up the conflict in a way that also feeds the Worf/O'Brien strand, and there's an effective epilogue. All of which makes Starship Down a solid addition to the Dominion arc - but still far short of the great episode it was on track to become at the start.
Overall Rating: 6/10.
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