The plot is rather simple. Faced with the inevitability of a Jem’Hadar assault on the station, Starfleet wants to head hostilities off at the pass. They send a diplomatic mission through the wormhole in an attempt to contact the mysterious Founders and maybe talk them out of fighting. On the face of it, it’s kind of baffling, considering the one thing the Dominion was so angry about was the Federation coming through the wormhole, but what are you going to do? Throw love notes into the Gamma Quadrant? “Do you want to invade, check Yes or No.” Plus, considering how much the Dominion knew about the Alpha Quadrant hinted that their spies were already here. There turns out to be a very good reason for all of this.
Flying around the Gamma Quadrant is no longer safe. Fortunately, Commander Sisko has an excellent solution to the problem. That solution is the USS Defiant. Remember back in the pilot when Sisko spent several years working in a shipyard? Well, it turned out he was dedicating his time to designing a ship to kill the Borg. Well, “designing a ship” might be overstating it. He basically just strapped some cannons onto a warp drive, painted a middle finger on the hull, and called it a day. The Defiant is so ridiculously overpowered that during shakedown it nearly tore itself apart. The crew of DS9 is so metal, they can’t even get a ship that won’t try to kill them. The best part is that the Defiant is a straight-up warship. There are no families on board. There are no science stations. There’s no Ten Forward. There are barely quarters: they have these cramped military barracks featuring bunk beds that could double as coffins.
While the Defiant sticks around for the rest of the series, one aspect does not. For this mission, it has a cloaking device, which is how it gets around the Gamma Quadrant without fighting literally every Jem’Hadar along the way. The cloaking device is on loan from the Romulan Empire, and they’ve assigned a liaison, Subcommander T’Rul, to oversee its operation. (Side note: I love the rank “Subcommander,” and I have no idea why.) Sadly, she does not stick around. I would have liked DS9’s take on the Romulans, especially through the eyes of a reoccurring character. The Defiant’s cloaking device sees sporadic use through the rest of the series, which is against the treaty the Federation has with the Romulans, but who cares? The Defiant is awesome.
This episode also introduces Lt. Commander Michael Eddington from Starfleet security. Remember Lt. Primmin? No? Good. Anyway, Eddington serves essentially the same purpose, only without being horribly irritating. Uncomfortable with Odo, Starfleet wants one of their own people in charge of security. In hindsight, it’s a hilarious choice, but we’ll get there. In any case, Eddington is played by Ken Marshall, who children of the ‘80s will remember as the star of the fantasy/SF/seriously ‘80s movie, Krull. Every year, I celebrate Krullmas, and it’s become a thing with my group of friends. I don’t want to say this makes me a hero, but it totally does and I should have a medal. Anyway, Marshall is nearly unrecognizable here, leading to the right kind of people going, “No way! Colwyn was Eddington?!” That also doubles as the geekiest sentence possible in the English language.
Even small, stylistic changes signal that this is a new era. They both get abandoned, but it’s still an important sign. Dax abandons her simple ponytail for an updo that looks a bit like a giant, black alien parasite is trying to eat her memories. The ponytail comes back by the third episode to everyone’s intense relief. Odo’s uniform now features a collar and a belt, which later becomes an extremely minor plot point. His costume later goes back to the beltless and collarless version we’re used to.
Another subtle point is made in a scene between Sisko and Jake. They’ve returned from Earth after being debriefed at Starfleet Command, and both of them are happy to be home. It’s official: DS9, and not Earth, is home. Sisko wonders when this happened, but perceptive Jake gives a precise time. See, that was when Sisko took his collection of African art from storage to take to the station. Jake tells him that’s the stuff in his office, and wherever that is, that’s where Sisko calls home. Like everything between these two, it’s a pleasant scene that shows Sisko’s humanity in the love he has for his son. It’s also a nice way to show that Jake’s growing up, and though he might still love spice pudding, he’s savvy enough to read the old man.
Starfleet’s solution for finding the Founders is novel: use the Ferengi. Remember when the Nagus used the Dosi to contact the Karemma for the tulaberry wine concern? Well, Sisko convinced him that should war come, profits would take a nosedive, so he dispatches Quark as an envoy. This makes sense -- beyond just sending a regular on the mission -- as Quark does have practical experience negotiating with the Dominion, one of only two people who can say that. The scene in which Sisko gets Quark to agree ends on a sour note, though. He forces Quark to kiss the Nagus’ scepter. It’s a weird, ugly bit of racism that doesn’t sit well with what we know about the Commander. Quark saved his life on that planet. Show the man a little respect.
The Karemma outline the Dominion’s standard operating procedure. They don’t know if the Founders are real and in point of fact don’t care. It doesn’t matter in their day-to-day. All they know is that if the Vorta tell them to do something, they do it without question. The alternative is a visit from the Jem’Hadar, and those guys are no fun. Quark manages to wheedle the location of a relay station out of the Karemma diplomat (who is much more interested in buying Kira’s earring than discussing his masters), where the messages to and from the Karemma homeworld go.
While they’re looking over a map of space, Odo catches sight of the Omarion Nebula, which instantly obsesses him. He desperately wants to go to it, without knowing how or why. When the Defiant gets ambushed by Jem’Hadar ships at the relay station, Odo seizes his chance. The Defiant gets crippled, and Jem’Hadar boarding parties beam over. Odo gets himself and an unconscious Kira on a shuttlecraft. Instead of heading home, he goes to the source of his obsession. There, in the nebula, they find a rogue planet without a sun. He and Kira land, and despite there being no sun, they don’t instantly freeze to death. Instead of death, they find a lake of shimmering gold slime. Lights dance in the liquid, and soon, other Changelings take humanoid forms and step out of it. The only one to speak gives the episode’s quote to Odo.
Mystery solved. Well, kinda.
Next week: Home is where the slime is.