|Gul Dukat gives Cardassia to the Dominion.|
Worf, Garak, Dr. Bashir, and the Klingon general Martok (J. G. Hertzler) are all prisoners of the Jem'Hadar. They have a plan for escape - but it hinges on Garak being able to modify Enabran Tain's transmitter to beam them to Worf's runabout. Garak is the only one among them with the technical knowledge to make this work... something that's badly complicated by Garak's extreme claustrophobia.
Back on Deep Space 9, what appears to be a massing Dominion attack is turned on its head when the Dominion fleet flies right past the station on its way to Cardassia Prime. Gul Dukat's ship flies after them - but not to try to attack or pass the fleet to warn Cardassia. Dukat has been in secret negotiations to join the Dominion, and is being installed as the new Cardassian ruler.
Dukat's first order of business is a promise to his people. He will restore the empire to full strength: "There will not be a single Klingon alive inside Cardassian territory or a single Maquis colony left within our borders. Cardassia will be made whole. All that we have lost will be ours again, and anyone who stands in our way will be destroyed!"As he explains to Sisko, Cardassian territory includes Deep Space 9. And with the Changeling impersonating Dr. Bashir preparing mass sabotage of the station, its destruction may be imminent!
Capt. Sisko: Even though Sisko is left to mostly react to events, he still doesn't project the slightest weakness in his conversations with Dukat. He actively encourages the Cardassian to try to take the station from him, in a tone and manner that should give pause to even the most power-mad of egotists. He is able to convince Klingon Chancellor Gowron (Robert O'Reilly) to re-commit to the Khitomer Accords, so that the Federation and the Klingon Empire can stand united against the Dominion. Finally, when he realizes that the Bashir he has been trusting is a Changeling infiltrator, he doesn't hesitate to order "Bashir's" shuttle destroyed.
Worf: Earns Martok's respect by accepting one Jem'Hadar challenge after another, and defeating every one of them. Even as Worf becomes steadily more injured, he refuses to decline a challenge. His sense of honor will not allow him to yield. His final fight is against Ikat'ika (James Horan), the Jem'Hadar First of the camp. By this point, Worf is too badly injured to put up much of a fight, but he still refuses to yield even when both Martok and Ikat'ika insist that "honor has been satisfied." His stubbornness leads Ikat'ika to yield, the Jem'Hadar stating: "I cannot defeat this Klingon. All I can do is kill him - and that no longer holds my interest."
Dr. Bashir: Part One revealed that for the last several episodes, the Bashir on Deep Space 9 was actually a Changeling while the real Bashir languished in a Jem'Hadar prison. This episode cuts between both Bashirs, showing an effective contrast. Changeling Bashir is very smooth and unflappable. The real Bashir's compassion shows itself as he tries to talk Worf out of continuing his fights with the Jem'Hadar and as he insists on Garak taking regular breaks in his work. It really makes me want to go back and watch the last several episodes again, to see if I can spot differences in Bashir's behavior after the fact. I do think it's a missed opportunity that they didn't pick his separation from his allies during Nor the Battle to the Strong the moment at which he was taken, though - It would have turned that episode's one weak point (his miraculous, off-screen return to base) into a retroactive strength.
Garak: The Garak we see here is largely robbed of his silver tongue. He is forced to face his greatest internal fear, and that strips away his acerbic armor. It does seem that Tain truly was his father (something I doubted at the end of Part One). It also seems clear that he genuinely does care about Ziyal, trying to push himself to overcome his claustrophobia by invoking his promise to her to return. I wouldn't want to see Garak this vulnerable very often, but it is worthwhile to see it occasionally. Knowing that there is a real core underneath the act makes him more complex, not less - And I'm sure another episode will come along in due course to remind us that he is a formidable figure in his own right.
Gul Dukat: "One man's villain is another man's hero." Dukat really does see himself as the hero, striking the devil's bargain with the Dominion in order to make his people strong again. It's completely consistent with what we've seen in previous episodes. In Return to Grace, he was outraged when his government overlooked Klingon aggression in Cardassian space, denouncing the new government as "paralyzed... beaten and defeated." He proclaimed himself "the only Cardassian left!" In his mind, selling his people out to the Dominion is an act of patriotism, to restore his empire to its former glory. Given the shared (pointless) resentment among some fans of the two shows, I hate to throw a Babylon 5 reference in - but Dukat's bargain with the Dominion strongly recalls Londo's dealings with Mr. Morden. I suspect they will lead in a similar direction, but likely without the redemption Londo found.
By Inferno's Light makes good use of the many strands left by In Purgatory's Shadow. This is a true Part Two, carrying on both the tone and narrative of Part One. It also functions as a piece of a larger arc. The immediate threat is resolved by the end of the episode, but the series has shifted in a fundamental way by the end.
The 2-parter continues to balance momentum against strong character moments. As the station braces for a Dominion attack, O'Brien sends his family to Bajor for refuge. He comments to "Bashir" that Molly is getting old enough to know when something's wrong, and that he doesn't like seeing her worried or afraid. Dukat says farewell to Kira, observing that it never felt right for the two of them to be on the same side. Quark looks at a potential Dominion takeover in terms of its effect on business: Neither the Founder nor the Jem'Hadar eat, drink, or have sex, which are Quark's three main profit lines. Little moments like these only take a minute or so, and therefore don't interfere with the pace - but they do a lot to personalize the plot developments for the characters, and they make the characters feel that much more real for taking that spare minute here and there.
I was fearful of a weak finish, but that doesn't end up happening. The Bashir Changeling is exposed and his immediate plot is foiled. Beyond that, the Federation and the Klingon Empire are firmly allies again, the end of their conflict fused to the Dominion arc just as the beginning of it was. But as we fade to black, the overall situation is far more grim and far less stable than it has been.
The Dominion now has a presence in the Alpha Quadrant. The Dominion/Cardassian alliance has driven the Klingons out of Cardassian space. The Maquis will likely be similarly driven out, as the Dominion's scorched Earth tactics will make a guerilla war untenable. Finally, Dukat's ending conversation with Sisko makes it clear that he sees Deep Space 9 as Cardassian property - and that he fully intends to take it back or destroy it. This leaves a threat of war hanging over Deep Space 9's head, a threat which I suspect will materialize right around the season's end.
In short, it's hard to imagine that things can just go back to "business as usual" for the last part of the season. The status quo has changed - and not in a way that can remain stable for long. I look forward to the point at which it will shift again.
Overall Rating: 10/10.
Previous Episode: In Purgatory's Shadow
Next Episode: Dr. Bashir, I Presume
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