The Wadi, who like games, make Quark lead the senior crew on a trip through a complicated maze.
Plot Summary: A first contact with the Wadi from the Gamma Quadrant surprises Sisko when instead of diplomacy, the aliens are only interested in Alpha Quadrant games. Quark agrees to let the leader, Falow, bid gems at the Dabo table while the bored station officers head off to bed. When the aliens quickly learn the rules of Dabo and start beating the house, Quark instructs one of his employees to cheat. The Wadi realize that they have been duped and insist that now Quark must play one of their games, which he activates on the Promenade. At the same time, Sisko wakes not in his quarters but on the floor of an alien room. The commander quickly discovers that Kira, Bashir, and Dax have all been brought to the same alien structure, which puts them through a series of puzzles and tests, while Odo discovers that the four officers are missing and Quark slowly realizes that the four playing pieces he is using in the game represent his four associates. Falow tells Quark that his winnings will be greater if he uses a shortcut, though that will also increase the risk to his game pieces. At first Quark chooses the safer route, but realizes that a quick end to the game may be wiser and agrees to skip a level. Though Bashir disappears and Dax is injured in the game, they reappear along with Sisko and Kira when Quark loses the game. Odo reveals to Sisko that Quark’s cheating was likely responsible for the perceived peril, but Quark is too concerned with franchising this new game to atone.
Analysis: This episode is generally considered a stinker, with reason – it’s plodding, it’s more like a kid’s fantasy story than science fiction, and it requires the senior crew to behave in a very silly manner without the humorous payoffs of such Next Generation episodes as “Qpid” (there is no “I am not a merry man!” moment, nor even “A cellular peptide cake…with mint frosting”). It’s hard to avoid comparisons with TNG’s “The Game” and at least Sisko’s crew is not addicted, though they look no less ridiculous playing hopscotch than Picard’s crew did staring at miniature game boards projected before their eyes. For better or worse, the aliens look just as goofy as any crewmember and unlike in “The Game” there isn’t some clever, sinister takeover plan behind the form of recreation they introduce. But considering we’re only a few episodes away from “Captive Pursuit” and its lethal sport, one has to wonder why the spacefaring races of the Gamma Quadrant have so much time on their hands to devote to not-very-benign pursuits of pleasure. The first time I watched, I expected the game in “Move Along Home” to have a diplomatic or political point, like the aliens who restructured the Enterprise in “Masks”; apparently, however, the only moral is not to cheat someone whose more adept at gambling.
While it’s nice to meet a species with no apparent interest in violent conquest, it’s a shame that we get no insight into their formidable technology and why they choose to devote so much of their energy to games. Is it a strategic decision, have they discovered that games keep their minds sharp and help them with engineering problems, or is this all a ploy to see what sort of people occupy the Alpha Quadrant? Clearly their transporter technology and holographic skills are far beyond anything in the Federation – the computer reports that Sisko is nowhere on the station while he’s trapped in the game, and when Odo tries to enter the Wadi ship, he is instantly transported to the Promenade – yet there’s no discussion of how these scientific wonders work, to what other uses they might be put (simulating experiments and training soldiers come immediately to mind), whether there could be any sort of exchange beyond the financial transaction Quark is planning. Even if Sisko is too disgusted to want to open the first contact negotiations that are the ostensible reason for the visit, I’m astonished that Kira does not see immediate practical reasons that the Wadi might make excellent allies for Bajor.
The fact that these issues are never even mentioned underlines the degree to which “Move Along Home” isn’t a serious episode. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t some telling character moments. After a few weeks’ absence, Jake Sisko reappears to reveal that while the O’Briens have been visiting Earth, leaving the school closed, he has been hanging out with Nog, checking out pretty Bajoran women who visit the station. Sisko realizes to his horror that he hasn’t managed to have The Talk with his son before Nog filled in all sorts of details that Sisko doesn’t care to imagine. Sisko is looking rather beleaguered this episode and doesn’t really seem to be on top of things; his eagerness to get to bed, leaving Quark in charge of a group of aliens no one knows anything about, without even calling for Odo to oversee the situation, seems like a recipe for disaster, and I don’t think it’s because Sisko senses all along that the aliens are really benevolent. He frets about small details like Bashir’s inability to track down his dress uniform – as Bashir correctly points out, the aliens have no idea what is considered formal for Starfleet, for all he knows they prefer nudity – and refuses to argue with Dax about the possibility of leaving her behind in the game to rescue himself and Kira. Yet he seems detached from his role as commander responsible for everyone on Deep Space Nine, perhaps because the writers haven’t really decided who he is yet. Allamarain!