|Sisko has a vision...|
It has been three months since Starfleet took the Chin'toka System back from the Dominion - and three months since Jadzia's death and Sisko's return to Earth. Sisko's stated goal when he left was to find a way to contact the Prophets - but his father and Jake worry that he's spent all that time doing nothing at all, not even leaving the restaurant.
Then the Prophets send a vision to Sisko. He sees himself on the desert planet Tyree, digging until he uncovers the image of a beautiful woman. When he wakes, he learns that this woman was actually his mother - and that she died many years ago. When his father produces a necklace of hers, with ancient Bajoran writing on it that translates to "The Orb of the Emissary," Sisko realizes that he must go to Tyree to find that Orb.
Back on the station, Worf is despondent. Not only did Jadzia die, she did not die in battle. According to Klingon tradition, she did not enter the afterlife of Sto-vo-kor, and the only way to get her there is to win a great battle in her name... Difficult to do, when the Defiant is spending all of its time escorting convoys. When he (reluctantly) confides in O'Brien, the engineer contacts Martok - who is ready and willing to take Worf aboard his ship to make a near-suicidal attack at the heart of the Dominion!
Meanwhile, the newly-promoted Colonel Kira must adjust not only to being in charge, but to accepting a Romulan presence on the station. Fortunately, Senator Cretak (Megan Cole) proves easy to get along with. Right up until Kira learns that the "hospital" the Romulans have set up on a Bajoran moon is armed with plasma torpedoes. When the Bajoran government insists the Romulans surrender their weapons, Cretak refuses, sparking the kind of confrontation that could spell the end of the Starfleet/Romulan alliance...
Capt. Sisko: Sisko's journey in this episode (and, even moreso, the next) is very much that of a man on a religious pilgrimage. He has spent months isolating himself from the outside world, making his own world effectively smaller and simpler. He spends an entire day doing nothing but playing the piano... Music having been a common way for various religious devotees to meditate, the rhythm making it easier to let go of conscious thought. The episode ends with him again assuming the mantle of the Emissary - and, in a startlingly violent moment, literally paying for that in blood.
Colonel Kira: Now in charge of the station, with a freshly-minted promotion to colonel and an acknowledgement that she's done a fine job of stepping into Sisko's shoes. She continues to insist that she's "just keeping his seat warm" until he returns, but increasingly few people believe Sisko will return. Admiral Ross (Barry Jenner) stops just short of a condescending "Uh-huh" in response to Kira's statement. Kira is resistant to the Romulans' arrival, but finds a kindred spirit in the blunt Cretak - which makes her all the angrier when it's revealed that her apparent new friend has actually been manipulating her the entire time.
Worf: His first scene sees him upbraiding Nog for daring to be relieved at the lack of danger in their most recent assignment - as if a soldier in a shooting war doesn't have every right to be happy at an assignment that doesn't involve the specter of imminent death or dismemberment. He then tears Vic Fontaine (James Darren)'s holo-bar apart while listening to the crooner sing Jadzia's favorite song - something that we learn has happened multiple times over the past months. When he reveals the reason for his behavior, it makes perfect sense. By his beliefs, Jadzia will be denied peace in the afterlife until he wins a battle for her - Which puts Worf on his own religious-based quest, thematically linking his thread with Sisko's.
Ezri: This episode introduces Nicole de Boer, as the "new" Dax. She appears only in the very last scene - a wise choice on the part of writers Ira Steven Behr and Hans Beimler. By holding off her appearance to the last seconds, we are allowed to remember and mourn Jadzia's absence as much as Sisko, Worf, Bashir, and Quark do. The next episode should start showing how Ezri differs from Jadzia, and will hopefully establish a working relationship with Sisko that's unique to this new character - but that will be something to discuss in the next review.
Weyoun/Damar: The disappearance of the wormhole seems to have turned the course of the war back in the Dominion's favor. Weyoun doesn't fully understand how this is true, but he reluctantly acknowledges that they owe thanks to Gul Dukat. Damar has always enjoyed his drink, but now he is constantly seen with a drink in hand. Weyoun can't help commenting on Damar's constant drinking, but he relishes the news about the Romulans' betrayal of Kira. "Romulans - So predictably treacherous!" he exults, as visions of the death of the Federation/Romulan alliance dance through his head.
Image in the Sand kicks off Deep Space 9's final season. It's less the first half of a two-parter than the middle part of a trilogy, with two of its three threads directly picking up from Tears of the Prophets. Sisko is still searching for a way to reconnect with the Prophets, while Worf is finding a way to come to terms with Jadzia's death. Only Kira's thread, with the Romulan presence on the station and on a Bajoran moon, originates here, and that thread is itself a consequence of the war situation.
It's a set-up episode, largely laying groundwork for the next installment, but that doesn't mean it isn't gripping. Sisko's emotionally raw state is tailor-made to Avery Brooks' strengths as an actor. When he demands his father tell him the identity of the woman in his vision, there's an instant in which we see the potential for violence - Something both he and his father seem to recognize, and are both frightened of. Not the kind of moment you expect from a Star Trek hero, but it works very well with Sisko's instability, and shows exactly why he needs a Dax to pull him back just as much as he needs the connection with the Prophets.
Also un-Trek like is the startling brutality of a knife attack near the end. Reminiscent of the broken bottle assault that was the only memorable moment in Time's Orphan, this sort of tangible and real violence carries an immediacy phasers don't... Particularly when the scene ends with the victim holding his wound while coughing helplessly on the ground. It's meant to be disturbing, and it is - Though I find myself wondering if broadcasters/Paramount received any viewer complaints as a result.
The attack is perpetrated by a member of The Cult of the Pah-wraiths, which has sprung up in the wake of the wormhole's collapse. Some dialogue between Kira and Odo tells us that this cult was originally dismissed as fringe cranks, but has gained momentum over the past few months. Save for the knife attack, they seem to be planted for use in future episodes, but it will be interesting to see what comes of them.
The episode definitely does what it needs to, following up on Tears of the Prophets in such a way that the cataclysmic events of that episode are shown to have impact. By leaving all threads unresolved, we are given time to absorb the death of Jadzia Dax, as well as the impact on the station both of Sisko's departure and the wormhole's collapse. At the same time, new complications are established in the rise of the cult and the arrival of the Romulans. A fine season opener, holding viewer attention throughout while promising plenty of interesting things to come.
Overall Rating: 9/10.
Previous Episode: Tears of the Prophets
Next Episode; Shadows and Symbols
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