This two-parter is the true sea change in DS9’s struggle toward awesomeness, and, after it, the scales are irrevocably tipped. That’s not to say there aren’t great episodes before this one -- I’d still rank “Duet” and “The Wire” in the top 10 -- but, after this, the episodes got a whole lot bigger. In fact, this is the first time we will see what is arguably DS9’s signature: big-ass space battles.
The episode opens on a “last time on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” and it’s kind of hard to impress on how cool that was watching at the time. We take previouslies for granted now (except in Netflix shows which they correctly gauge our level of self-control and assume we will gobble it all in one sitting), but at the time it was almost revolutionary. Granted, it was only stuff from the episode right before, so you didn’t get that shot of Garak being all, “I’m a simple tailor,” and Bashir saying, “He’s a spy!” like you would now. Anyway, it’s this really intense recap of last week, and then it cuts to a low-angle shot of the Chief shoveling this giant spoonful of noodle soup into his mouth. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long while.
This is only to establish that Chief is not the best lunch date for Bashir. O’Brien is a working man, and lunchtime is for eating. Bashir was always a touch aristocratic, and lunchtime is for intellectual debate. He misses Garak, who, along with Odo, is still missing.
O’Brien’s lunchtime habits make sense, because he’s summoned to Ops before he can finish. It’s an energy surge, which turns out to be a decloaking Romumlan and Cardassian fleet. Another man might s--t a brick, but Sisko is ready to throw down. The fleet just ignores the station, heading for the wormhole. Sisko contacts Starfleet Command, and Admiral Toddman (wearing gold because I believe he’s supposed to specifically be security brass) basically tells him to stand down. Starfleet Intelligence intercepted a communique from Enabran Tain explaining his plan, and now the Federation’s thinking, maybe we see if it works? It’s a realpolitik solution at odds with Roddenberry’s vision, but it makes perfect sense in a universe with genocidal monsters like the Borg, the Dominion, and whatever it was Voyager fought. I don’t know. The Methodists?
On the ship, Tain and Garak have reconciled, and Garak is already dreaming of who will be getting payback when he returns to power. At the top of his list? Why, Gul Dukat, of course. Seems there was some fallout over an arms merchant or something. Tain drops a hint that he plans to kill Mila as well, and Garak betrays his affection for her. He obliquely asks Tain to spare her, though never directly, and denying the whole time that he is.
Tain has another task for Garak, and that is the interrogation of Odo. Tain wants to wring whatever information about the Founders they can. Garak blanches at this, citing as an excuse that it’s pretty much impossible to torture a shapeshifter. Tain has a device that will keep Odo locked in one form, and if you remember his trouble in the elevator with Lwaxana Troi, that can be painful. As to what would happen if he can’t regenerate at all, not even Odo knows. And, the thought chills him.
Garak does, in fact, torture Odo with this device. I love this scene, because it reminds us that Garak is not a good guy. He shows, in nice subtle ways, that he doesn’t want to do this, that he actually respects Odo, but still: he’s willing. Garak is willing to torture someone he knows personally for information he doesn’t believe exists.
What results is a fantastic scene between two of the strongest actors in the ensemble. Garak essentially begs Odo to tell him anything, even to lie, just so he can turn the machine off and report to Tain. Finally, Odo does break. He did leave one thing out of his report to Starfleet: despite turning his back on his people, he wants to return to them. Odo has never known community, and with the Great Link, he finally got it in a more sublime way than any solid ever could. It’s easy to see why he would want that back. After the confession, Garak turns off the machine and cradles his head in his hands, feeling the shame and grief he probably believed it was beyond him to feel.
Meanwhile, Sisko is awesome. I know, I don’t have to say it. He’s not abandoning one of his officers in the Gamma Quadrant, and he’s going to disobey a direct order from Toddman to take the Defiant and rescue Odo. On the way, the cloaking device fails, and Michael Eddington (Remember him?) confesses to sabotage. He is under Toddman’s command (hence my belief that Toddman is specifically security) and has direct orders to stop the mission. It’s a good bit of foreshadowing for Eddington’s character, showing us that he’s not quite to be trusted. Fortunately, Chief O’Brien is on board, and they’re only delayed.
The Tal Shiar/Obsidian Order fleet arrives on the Founder homeworld and open fire. And, it’s a trap. A giant Jem’Hadar fleet emerges from the nebula and proceeds to chew the Romulans and Cardassians to pieces. As it turns out, Colonel Lovok, Tain’s Romulan counterpart, was a Changeling the whole time. The episode expertly foreshadows this, too, showing his brief panic about the no-shapeshifting device and wanting to keep Odo alive over Tain’s objections. When the trap is sprung, Lovok shows up to help Garak -- who was in the process of springing Odo from the clink -- giving the usual explanation: “No Changeling has ever harmed another.” Put a pin in that one, folks. It’s important.
Garak tries to rescue Tain as well, but the old man is broken by his failure. Odo has to knock Garak out before they can get to the runabout and flee. Of course, this is into a fleet of attacking Jem’Hadar, and they’re not too picky that a new ship in the dogfight isn’t Romulan or Cardassian. Garak apologizes to Odo, and the constable sort of accepts. They’re ready to die. Fortunately, that’s when the Defiant shows up.
And, it is awesome. This is the Federation’s only warship -- Ben Sisko basically strapped guns to a warp engine. Now, it’s doing what it does best, and that’s cleaning the skies of anything Sisko does not personally allow to be alive anymore.
The final scene of the episode is Garak in his shop, picking through the scorched debris of the explosion. He said earlier to Odo, regretfully, that, “The sad part is I am a very good tailor.” Now, his dreams of being back in power are gone, and he has returned to the life that he hates all the more for being kind of pleasant. He wipes some soot from a mirror, and there is Odo, behind him, in reflection. It’s a great shot, partially because while both men are in frame, Odo is out of focus, too far away to really be connected with Garak. Odo thanks him for what he did. Though Garak got the confession out of Odo (good at his job, too), he never included it in his report to Tain or to Starfleet. That is the constable’s secret, and Garak will not reveal it. Odo asks him out to breakfast, and a surprised Garak points out he doesn’t eat. “I don’t,” says Odo, making it clear how much the invitation means. Then, he leaves the stunned tailor-exile-spy to clean up his shop.
Quoting Shakespeare is one of the quickest ways for a hack writer to feel profound. If you want to earn a Shakespeare quote, you have to lay the groundwork. This episode’s quote is Garak paraphrasing Julius Caesar, which he was discussing with Bashir in the previous hour. In addition, going through the wormhole is somewhat akin to Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon -- the point of no return toward war, and the runabout that will replace the Mekong, destroyed here by Jem’Hadar, is the Rubicon. And, what was Garak’s fundamental complaint about the play? That Caesar never saw the betrayal coming from his closest ally. Tain never knew Lovok was a Changeling until it was too late.
Next up: Sisko does some manscaping.