|Stranded Jem'Hadar soldiers prepare for a last stand.|
Under attack, Sisko and his crew take refuge in a nebula - only to see their already-crippled Jem'Hadar ship lose all ship function just before crashing into an unknown planet. Also stranded on the planet are a handful of Jem'Hadar survivors of a similar crash. Their situation is even more dire than Sisko's. Their First and Second were killed in the crash, leaving Jem'Hadar Third Remata'klan (Phil Morris) in command. They are running low on ketracel white, and their Vorta, Keevan (christopher Shea), is mortally-injured.
When Keevan learns that a Starfleet crew is on the planet, he hatches a plot to save his own life. The Jem'Hadar take Garak and Nog prisoner. Keevan then sends Remat'Klan to offer a trade: The two crew members in exchange for the help of Dr. Bashir and a negotiation with Sisko.
Bashir is able to stabilize Keevan, at which point the Vorta offers an even greater trade: In exchange for his life, he will give them the means to contact Starfleet. But first he'll have to deal with the Jem'Hadar, whom the Vorta plans to send into an inescapable ambush...
Capt. Sisko: Is appalled by Keevan's offer, but doesn't see any immediate alternative. Keevan will send the Jem'Hadar to attack regardless of Sisko's acceptance, so the choices are literally kill or be killed. In his interactions with Remata'klan, it's clear that Sisko feels the same respect for this Jem'Hadar that he previously had felt for Omet'iklan in To the Death. He hopes to get through to Remata'klan, to convince him that Keevan is not worthy of his loyalty - but given the heavy conditioning the Jem'Hadar have received to obey the Vorta no matter what, he knows his chances aren't even good enough to describe as "slim."
Kira: "When I was in the Resistance, I despised people like me." She looks even more beaten down and exhausted than in the last episode. And it's no wonder. Pragmatism makes her priority to maintain the status quo of a bloodless Occupation. This involves agreeing to Vorta facilitators coming to Bajor, and defending that choice to the outraged Vedek Yassim (Lilyan Chauvin). Yassim accuses Kira of being an "apologist" for the Dominion, and demands to know what it will take for her to fight back. Kira herself worries that she has become a collaborator, and resolves to take action - though exactly what action that may be is yet to be revealed.
Dr. Bashir: When Dax is injured, he stabilizes her and continues to monitor the injuries to both Jadzia and to the Dax symbiote. When he is brought to Keevan, he takes in the Vorta's condition in a heartbeat and declares that any conversation between Keevan and Sisko will have to wait - Immediate surgery is required. In both cases, his actions are marked by a brisk efficiency. As was clear in the previous episode, most of Bashir's former good humor has been knocked away by the war.
Garak/Nog: When scouting with Nog, the Ferengi insists on walking either behind or beside Garak. When confronted, Nog reminds him of the incident on Empok Nor, brushing aside his protestations of outside influence: "It happened... You can either stand in front of me or walk beside me, but I won't turn my back on you again." Far from being offended, Garak smiles and congratulates the Ferengi, remarking that there may be hope for him yet.
Jem'Hadar: In his first conversation with Jem'Hadar leader Remata'klan, Sisko recalls the events of To the Death, in which he was impressed by the Jem'Hadar soldiers but not by their Vorta. That episode ended with the Vorta being killed by the Jem'Hadar First. This situation is the mirror image. Sisko is again faced with a Jem'Hadar leader he respects. He is again faced with a Vorta not worthy of anyone's respect. But Remata'klan does not waver. Even though he knows that Keevan is responsible for stranding them on this planet, and even though he recognizes the Vorta as the treacherous worm that he is, Remata'klan still declares: "He does not have to earn my loyalty, Captain. He has had it from the moment I was conceived. I am a Jem'Hadar. He is a Vorta. It is the order of things."
Rocks and Shoals is a fine example of how a story that could have worked independently is enhanced and given context by the Dominion War arc. The "A" plot, with the standoff between Sisko's group and the Jem'Hadar, is not inherently different than several episodes from earlier seasons. But the fact that Starfleet is now actively at war with the Dominion adds an extra layer. The events of A Time to Stand leave Sisko's party completely cut off, with no hope of rescue or of anyone even searching for them.
Just as would have been the case in earlier seasons, the episode cuts away from the main story to a "B" plot back at the station. But what would have provided relief from the bleakness in earlier years now just provides bleakness of a different kind, as Kira struggles with her role on a station that is occupied by an enemy force.
The two stories are tied together, in that both Sisko and Kira are struggling with situations with no easy answers. Kira despises the thought that she is becoming a collaborator, but she knows that active resistance would justify a Cardassian crackdown. Sisko hates dealing with Keevan, and respects the Jem'Hadar - but it is Keevan who offers him a way to keep his people alive. Neither Sisko nor Kira can get a pat, happy Trek ending. Both situations are dark and complex, and writer Ronald D. Moore follows each thread to its natural conclusion.
Performances are excellent, the regulars equally matched by guest stars Phil Morris and Christopher Shea, who turn the Jem'Hadar soldier and the shifty Vorta into fully lifelike characters. The always reliable Michael Vejar directs, and his visual eye gets an added dimension from the location filming. The beauty of the outdoor area, particularly along the water, makes a striking contrast with the desperation of both Sisko and the Jem'Hadar; and the ending confrontation makes tangible the tactical reality of high ground versus low. Not to mention the very well-chosen shots in the repeated montage of Kira's morning routine, particularly when it comes home to her that all those surrounding her in Ops are either Cardassian or Jem'Hadar.
All around excellent, with a memorable "A" plot and a well-handled "B" plot that sets the stage for more developments to come.
Overall Rating: 9/10.
Previous Episode: A Time to Stand
Next Episode: Sons and Daughters
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