|Sisko plans for retirement on Bajor...|
Sisko finally proposes to Kasidy Yates. He's hoping for a quiet wedding - and then, after the war, a retirement to Bajor. He's even designing a house for them.
But the war isn't cooperating with his dreams of a simple life. Worf's ship, the Koraga, has been destroyed by the Dominion near the Badlands, a region of space marked by plasma storms. Several escape pods have been recovered, but none with Worf on board. With Dominion ships approaching the area, Sisko is forced to call off the search, effectively giving him up for dead.
Ezri cannot live with that decision. She steals a runabout and makes for the Badlands, determined to find him and bring him home. She does find Worf alive, but the trip home is cut short by Jem'Hadar fighters. Worf and Ezri barely manage to beam to the safety of a planet before the runabout is destroyed - leaving them alive, but marooned with no way of contacting the station for rescue...
Capt. Sisko: Is embarking on two big life changes. He has purchased some land on Bajor to build a home, and is actively thinking of retiring after the war. He also proposes to Kasidy. One gets the sense that as soon as the war ends, he's ready to be done with Starfleet, wormholes, and all of it - If only the Prophets and Dominion could stop interfering. This doesn't stop him from being a leader willing to make tough decisions, however. When it becomes clear that Worf is unlikely to be recovered, he calls off the search - Though he doesn't stop Ezri from taking a runabout to conduct a search of her own.
Ezri: After Sisko calls off the search for survivors, she uses her override codes to enter the quarters Jadzia shared with Worf. As she walks from one part of the room to another, audio clips of highlights of the Jadzia/Worf relationship are played, making us aware of the specific memories Ezri is re-living while stoking our own memories at the same time. This is important, because it makes the emotion behind Ezri's decision to go after Worf real to us - And puts us back in the mindset of that relationship for the episode's second half.
Worf: We've seen throughout the season that Worf is conflicted about having another Dax around, from his warnings to Bashir and Quark about pursuing Ezri to his concerns for her safety. That conflict comes to its head here. Ever the stoic, he barely thanks Ezri for rescuing him and is soon gruffly avoiding all conversation with her. He tries to bar any mention of Jadzia, only to later respond to her barbs about hunting by saying, "Jadzia would have understood."
Kasidy Yates: Largely just a support for Sisko in this episode, but I'm struck once again by how convincing the relationship between these two is. There is an entirely unforced chemistry between Avery Brooks and Penny Johnson, and by this point in the series there is never a moment at which I fail to believe in them as a couple. The question is less why Ben proposes to her in this episode, and more why it took him so long to do it.
Damar: His loathing for Weyoun matched only by his disgust at himself for acting as the Vorta's lackey. He continues to drown his sorrows in women and alcohol, and is all too eager to assist Dukat when he shows up asking for a favor. His loyalty to Dukat remains strong, and he keeps his former superior's presence a secret from Weyoun and arranges the requested favor with no questions asked, even when his disapproval of Dukat's faith in the pah-wraiths is clear.
Deep Space 9 begins its march to the series finale. The script is by Rene Echevarria, arguably the series' strongest character writer, so it's appropriate that the story is heavily character-based. The main plot, about Ezri's rescue of Worf and their attempts to return to the station, is a thin clothesline, with the real focus on the relationships between Sisko and Kasidy and Worf and Ezri - which plays to Echevarria's strengths.
There's real authenticity to the scenes of Sisko mulling over the exact layout of his house, and I love the little moment where he and Kasidy debate over whether the kitchen should be separated from the dining room or open. Sisko, the son of a chef, protests Kasidy's preference for an open kitchen, arguing that he doesn't want visitors wandering in to sample the food before it's ready.
Other good character bits abound. When Ezri rescues Worf from the escape pod, she prods him to find out which Klingon opera he was singing inside the pod. He readily admits to having done exactly that, adding that the acoustics were good. The Ezri/Worf interactions continue to ring true as Ezri keeps trying to draw him into conversation while he tries to avoid it. I'm not sure I fully buy into them sleeping together near the end of the episode - Though that's more because Nicole de Boer just doesn't fit with Michael Dorn the way Terry Farrell did, as story-wise it makes sense as a development building through their interactions and non-interactions throughout the season.
For all that this is a character-based episode, the script also is busy planting lots of plot seeds. The disease plaguing the Founders gets some more attention, and Weyoun's visit to the female changeling reveals that she is deteriorating rapidly. Meanwhile, the Breen are re-introduced, with their presence an oddity Worf and Ezri comment on; and Dukat continues to be a wild card, with a plan of his own that has yet to be defined but is certain to be very dangerous to all parties.
Penumbra moves at a brisk pace throughout, and manages the tricky job of being a good episode in its own right while also effectively kick-starting the series' final arc. A promising "beginning of the end," and a thoroughly enjoyable 45 minutes.
Overall Rating: 8/10.
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