Confession time: I love the Breen. Though they draw heavily from Leia’s “Boushh” disguise, they manage to be distinctive enough that the resemblance feels more like a nod than an outright theft. They also look great when placed next to the other major races of the Dominion. You have minor makeup for the Vorta, a more extensive look for the Cardassians, full facemasks for the Jem’Hadar, and the potential for CGI for the Founders. All different, but all undeniably biological. A race entirely entombed in high tech encounter suits rounds out the visual palette well.
Their penchant for speaking in angry electronic growl that’s understandable to the characters while remaining impenetrable to the viewers is another perfect flourish to make these eleventh-hour antagonists memorable. The writers smartly never give Thot Gor or any of the other Breen important lines, instead having Weyoun respond to each wall of distortion with implications that the Breen is a raconteur of the highest order. It’s never “correct,” but rather the far more evocative, “I’m going to hold you to that.”
To give the show its due, the Breen have been present a long time. Introduced in the fourth season with “Indiscretion,” we encountered another representative of the race in season five’s prison camp two-parter, where we also learned never to turn your back on a Breen. This turns out to have been good advice. The show turned its back on this enigmatic race only to have them play an unexpectedly large role in the show’s endgame. The Dominion needed something here; with Starfleet’s victories piling up, it was beginning to look like the war would be just one long mop-up.
The writers had a problem, though. As cool as the Breen were, they had very little cache even with the most loyal of viewers. They weren’t like the Klingons or Romulans, who have been threats since the first season of the original series, or the Borg, expertly established as the preeminent threat of TNG. The Breen are minor baddies in a spinoff show, at this point remembered only for running a slave labor camp and once shooting a Jem’Hadar with his own weapon. This episode is primarily a coming out for the Breen, as well as bringing to a close the first sub-arc of the finale.
With that in mind, the show first brings Ezri and Worf home. Their relationship is resolved (and Ezri is in place for the series finale), and from a plot standpoint, they bring with them news of both the Breen and Damar’s unexpected reversal. Hilariously, the main characters are as baffled by the Breen as the viewers. They know next to nothing about the enigmatic race, and what little they do know doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. (Weyoun, for example, points out that while the Breen wear refrigeration suits, their planet’s climate isn’t much different from everyone else’s.)
The writers first sell the Breen as enemies worthy of fear by having them successfully attack Starfleet headquarters in San Francisco. Without this scene, it wouldn’t work to have the various characters wringing their hands about the Breen threat. If it were important, they might have mentioned it once in the last seven years. Now, the Breen are on the radar, this new alliance a serious concern if not an outright game-changer.
The second threat is one we’ve been trained to expect: The Dominion is poised to break through Starfleet’s lines at Chin’toka. This is the Federation’s only foothold in Dominion space, won only after the unceremonious murder of Jadzia Dax. The system was again checked in on with the taut “Siege at AR-558.” Viewers understand the cost, so this threat feels real to us and rewards loyal viewers. We understand what the heroes had to give up, from the lives of main characters to the humanity of others. Nog spent an entire episode recovering from battles on Chin’toka. At this point, that patch of ground is more valuable than any other in the Alpha Quadrant.
The Defiant joins the joint task force fleet to meet the Dominion fleet arrayed against it in one of those massive space battles DS9 is known for. Additionally, the construction of the fleets is enormously visually pleasing, with the familiar lines of Federation, Klingon, and Romulan ships on one side, and the beetle-like Jem’Hadar ships, the owl-shaped Cardassian vessels, and the gloriously asymmetrical Breen craft on the other. The Breen ships in particular are a triumph of design, their graceful, yet cockeyed arcs implying an alien aesthetic sense. Both fleets are the sci-fi equivalent of a superhero/supervillain team-up.
The major clue that things weren’t going to go well comes from Bashir and O’Brien, who spent the early part of the episode obsessing over their Alamo holosuite program. Chief built a full-scale model, which also allows Worf to at once grouse about Ezri’s eventual suitor “playing with toys,” as well as conceal his own disappointment that he wasn’t invited to play, too. “I just want to win,” Bashir complains while suggesting modifications to the program. “Play Santa Anna,” says Chief. “He always wins.” Bashir also symbolically loses the General Travis figure. He might as well have tripped over a dozen black cats and into a truckload of mirrors.
As the battle is joined, the Breen unleash their new weapon. It’s what most SF fans would probably call an EMP gun. Firing crackling balls of energy, these hit the ships and instantly fry all their electronics, turning anything touched into a floating hulk. The rest of the Dominion fleet barely cares, relentlessly advancing, and firing an occasional, almost disinterested blast into the crippled ships. In this episode, the Defiant gets destroyed. If the attack on Earth didn’t cement the Breen as a threat, this does. Remember, the Jem’Hadar were introduced by having them casually destroy a ship identical to Picard’s, and the Defiant shortly thereafter carved through an entire fleet of Jem’Hadar ships. This is another escalation, though it’s done with a piece of miracle technology as opposed to blunt force.
Watching the Defiant casually, even contemptuously destroyed kicks me right where it hurts. As effective as it is at making the Breen credible, it’s equally as effective as making me want payback. No one treats my beloved ship like that.
The Female Changeling expertly reads the situation when she orders against the massacre of escape pods. She reminds Weyoun that those pods are filled with terrified, demoralized troops. Mercy today wins a huge psychological victory for the Dominion.
Hope comes from the most unlikely of all sources: Legate Damar. He begins the Cardassian resistance with a daring assault on a cloning facility. The attack has a wonderful extra layer: This is where the Weyouns are stored, which means the new Weyoun might be the last ever. As much as I love Weyoun and Jeffrey Combs, I love this move by Damar more. He didn’t just announce the resistance, he used it to throw a middle finger at the man he loathes more than any other in the universe.
The episode quote comes from Damar’s stirring speech to his people, broadcast after the destruction of the cloning facility. Gone are the days when he was a broken man, finding meaning at the bottom of a kanar bottle. No one, no matter how genetically enhanced, would read the story of the man who murdered a princess in this bold leader. This Damar is poised to become a folk hero, and as Ben Sisko points out, might be the key to winning back the Alpha Quadrant.
Next up: The end, part 5.