Sisko travels to Tyree to locate the Orb of the Emissary, which he is convinced will put him back in contact with the Prophets. Jake and his father accompany him, along with a surprise new arrival: Ezri (Nicole de Boer), the newest host for the Dax symbiote. Dax is exactly who Sisko needs right now - A strong-willed friend who can help break him out of his obsessive behavior. Unfortunately, the very young Ezri lacks Jadzia's confidence, and in the wake of the joining doesn't seem to even know herself anymore.
Worf and Martok have guests of their own on their mission to destroy a critical Dominion shipyard and win Jadzia passage into Sto-vo-kor. Bashir and Quark have insisted on joining, wanting to pay their final respects to Jadzia. O'Brien has also come along, mainly to keep an eye on Bashir. Martok seems to welcome the extra help, but Worf regards them as unwelcome intruders.
Back on the station, Admiral Ross (Barry Jenner) informs Kira that Starfleet is unwilling to intervene over the Romulans' arming of a Bajoran moon. The alliance with the Romulans is critical to the war effort, and Bajor simply isn't as important right now. Kira refuses to back down, however, leading a small group of Bajoran ships in creating a blockade around the moon. It's nothing the Romulans couldn't easily swat aside, if they want to escalate into a shooting conflict - But Kira believes that the Romulans will stop short of opening fire - a bet she's willing to stake her life on...
Capt. Sisko: Sisko's journey is even more explicitly a religious pilgrimage than it was in Part One, with his trek across the desert mirroring images from Biblical art (and Hollywood Biblical epics). At one point he is on hands and knees, reaching out for something he has not yet found, as if begging the heavens to please deliver on his vision. Ezri, Jake, and his father are left to follow him like disciples - Though Ezri (or, more accurately, the Dax part of her) finally has enough of Sisko's non-communication and calls him on it... Which ends up being the very thing that reveals his goal!
Colonel Kira: The unmovable object awaiting the unstoppable force, she doesn't even consider backing down when Starfleet refuses to intervene. She knows that a handful of outdated Bajoran freighters are no real obstacle to the Romulans, but insists on creating the blockade anyway. Cretak is sure this is a bluff, that Kira is counting on the need to avoid an actual shooting conflict. But viewers who have been watching the series for six seasons know that Kira will engage with her hopeless blockade if she has to, and she and odo approach the confrontation with a sort of resigned fatalism.
Ezri: I'm still not 100% sold on Ezri having been a good idea... But in her first proper episode, I'll admit that I like her. We learn that Ezri was not actually trained to be a joined Trill - She was a Starfleet ensign who happened to be the only Trill aboard when the Dax symbiote's condition started to fail. As such, she was completely unprepared for the reality of being joined, and is struggling with maintaining her own identity around the several lifetimes of memories she's suddenly absorbed. This, and a tendency toward insecure babbling, makes her refreshingly different than Jadzia, while still allowing enough of a relationship with Sisko to shake him out of his fanatical visions when he reaches his lowest point.
Jake: Continues to follow his father, even as he becomes uncertain about the journey. His best scenes in the episode come opposite Ezri, however. A comparable age to the insecure Trill, he makes a good sounding board for her self doubts. He's clearly a bit taken with her, and the two actors play well enough opposite each other that I wouldn't object to an eventual relationship - Which could create some amusing complications, given Dax's long-standing friendship across multiple lifetimes with Sisko.
Worf: Resents the presence of O'Brien, Bashir, and particularly Quark on what he believes should be his mission. He denounces what he sees as their interference: "You are not here to help Jadzia get into Sto-vo-kor. You are here because you wish to convince yourselves that you were worthy of her. But the truth is, none of you could ever hope to be worthy of her or even understand the kind of woman she was!" Martok is altogether more sympathetic, and gives Worf a push to apologize to them. After the mission, having now begun to come to terms with Jadzia's death, he returns to the station... and finds a new Dax waiting for him, something that leaves him visibly shaken.
Shadows and Symbols concludes the parallel narratives of the previous episode, bringing all three stories artfully to their respective high points. This deserves praise in itself, as the three stories are only thinly connected. And yet the three strands never feel like they're interrupting each other, and they never feel disconnected. These are three separate narratives, yet they absolutely belong together in this episode.
The way in which the episode cuts from one strand to the next is perfectly-judged, allowing each story's tone to complement the other two. Humor and action come from the Worf plot, while the grim strategy of Kira's confrontation with the Romulans delivers a completely different yet sharper suspense. Meanwhile, the religious symbolism woven throughout Sisko's story gives the entire piece an additional resonance, even as the introduction of Ezri puts a coda on Worf's mission. From death to rebirth, like the mythological phoenix. Jadzia Dax is laid to rest in fire, and Ezri Dax is born. The plots have virtually nothing to do with each other - and yet they work together to create a greater whole.
Also worth noting is the return, in a vision, of Benny Russell. Benny is still writing his Sisko stories, now scribbling on the walls of his asylum cell. His current story is Sisko's current story. When he is stopped in his writing, Sisko stops. When Ezri prevents Sisko from burying the Orb of the Prophets in sand, Benny breaks through the resistance around him to continue writing - and once he continues, Sisko's story continues as well, with a jump that seems to eliminate there having been any interruption at all.
It's a breathtaking episode, one that builds on the previous installment and delivers on every promise Image in the Sand gave. An outstanding conclusion to an excellent arc.
Overall Rating: 10/10.
Previous Episode: Image in the Sand
Next Episode: Afterimage
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