It begins rather innocuously, with Sisko and O’Brien aboard the Rio Grande on a surveying mission for new colonies. You’d think that, I don’t know, a science officer and a redshirt would be a better choice for this, but I’m not Starfleet. Anyway, the two men discuss Jake -- Sisko wants to apprentice him to O’Brien to help with the boy’s poor mechanical aptitude. That’s when O’Brien tells Sisko that he used to be bad with technology too, until he was sent to the Cardassian front and had the option of either repairing a transporter or becoming a Cardassian prisoner of war. Turns out this is a great motivation. Now, whenever I need to motivate myself, I can just hire some psychopaths to shoot at me while shouting, “Think better! Write harder!” I can see literally no way that would turn out badly.
Sisko and O’Brien detect a perfect planet, but wouldn’t you know it, there are already people down there. And, not people with funny ears or foreheads, we’re talking 100% human here. Our heroes beam down and discover that this duonetic field -- and I have no idea if that means anything or is the equivalent of saying “napkinshark boomtime” -- makes it so none of their technology works. They shortly discover the group of humans, who have been marooned on the planet and have turned to a primitive, subsistence agrarian culture. They’re like the Amish minus any hilarious beards. The leader, though she is careful never to call herself that, is a woman named Alixus.
The community works as a commune. Everyone contributes and everyone gets a share. Initially, both Sisko and O’Brien are happy to do their part, both men working in the fields. They’re only marking time, after all. The Rio Grande is still up there in orbit, and it’s really only a matter of time before Starfleet finds them. Slowly, darker aspects of this little paradise begin coming out. First, it’s odd stuff, like Alixus’s penchant for writing books about how the modern world is corrupt and humanity is on the wrong track. There are no doors, because she doesn’t believe in them. She sends a woman (played by Rambo’s Julia Nickson) to Sisko’s room to seduce him. A young woman is dying of infection, and while the medkit on the Rio Grande would save her life, Alixus refuses any attempt to try to contact the ship. She calls that a waste of time, and that’s the worst crime of all. Then, they see how people who transgress against the rules are punished: they’re locked in a metal box in the blazing sun. Sisko rightfully calls that a form of torture, and this, combined with the young woman’s death, prompts him to order O’Brien to use some engineer magic to get them out of there.
Meanwhile, Kira and Dax are unable to contact the Rio Grande and later get a report of an abandoned runabout. (For some reason, it was the Romulans who gave them the heads up. I like to think that this was less a neighborly “Hey, you left something” and more “Get this hunk of junk off my lawn!” Also, what are Romulans doing outside the neutral zone?) They investigate, and there are more Kira and Dax moments that make me long for that buddy series. Come on! They’re perfect together! They’re Fire and Ice! Even Dax’s deficiencies as a character recede when she’s given her opposite to bounce off of. Turns out the Rio Grande is at warp, and once Dax lassos it (using a trick taught to her by a “talented Hopi” -- and the way she delivers the line it’s clear she’s talking about an ex) with a tractor beam, it’s clear that someone tried to shoot the runabout into a star. A miscalculation slingshotted it out into space.
O’Brien is caught pretty quickly, and Alixus decides to punish not him, but Commander Sisko. Sisko, it should be noted here, is a badass. That’s not editorializing. That’s just a fact. He goes into the box stoically, ready to suffer. The true badassery comes when they let him out the next day. He’s as weak as a kitten. He can barely stand. He hasn’t had a drop of water. Alixus says that all is forgiven if he takes off the uniform and puts on some regular clothes. Sisko’s response? He walks right back into the box. Yeah. He doesn’t even care.
O’Brien has officially had enough of this nonsense, and loyal readers will remember that spurring O’Brien to action is pretty much the worst thing anyone can do to themselves. He fashions a boy scout compass and heads off into the woods, quickly finding a device buried in a clearing. Oh, Alixus’s son hunts O’Brien with a bow and arrow, but this is a minor inconvenience to the Hero of Setlik III. I’m not even joking. O’Brien returns to the camp with a functioning phaser, and the young man trussed up like a prize pig. That’s right, O’Brien’s response to being unarmed and hunted in the woods was to level up. He comes back into the village and phasers the lock off the hellbox imprisoning the Commander.
That’s, of course, when Kira and Dax show up. As it turns out, this was always Alixus’s plan. She had the duonetic field generator and engineered the shipwreck. She inadvertently caused all those deaths -- of starvation, infection, all those things Starfleet has wiped out -- and her conscience is clear, calling them the price of Eden. When asked if it was her son, she serenely says yes, she would have let him die too. That is the brilliance of the episode. Alixus is corrupt and evil by any standard, but her line of reasoning is not only clear, it starts out on the side of good. It is only by following her path of conclusions that she gradually becomes a monster. The episode strips these back layer by layer -- at first, she’s a pleasant earth mother, and by the end a clear-eyed fanatic, but the performance doesn’t change. It was all there at the beginning, but we’re only seeing the true depths.
Sisko takes Alixus and her son into custody while O’Brien assumes that the villagers will want to come along. Joseph, the new leader, says that this is their home and they might want to stay. They might even keep the duonetic field running. Alixus might have been corrupt and power-mad, but that doesn’t make her vision of a world without technology entirely worthless.
That, people, is how you do a villain.
Next up: Odo tracks a missing girl.