While Worf and Garak are held prisoner in the Gamma Quadrant, Sisko learns of an impending Dominion invasion.
Plot Summary: While Kira helps Odo return his quarters to the state he prefers as a changeling, Dax intercepts a Cardassian transmission from the Gamma Quadrant. Asked to analyze it, Garak dismisses it as unimportant, then promptly tries to steal a runabout. Confronted by Bashir, who takes him to Sisko, Garak confesses that the message appears to be from his former mentor and Obsidian Order leader Enabran Tain. Sisko agrees to let Garak try to rescue Tain and any other imprisoned Cardassians in the Gamma Quadrant, but insists that Worf accompany him. They try to sneak through a nebula into Dominion space but are captured by a fleet of Jem’Hadar ships too large to have been sent to intercept them. Worf concludes that the Dominion is planning to invade the Alpha Quadrant and tries to send a message to the station, though interference blocks most of it. As Worf and Garak are taken prisoner, Dax and O’Brien decipher enough of the message to realize that the Dominion is on the way. Since Starfleet’s listening posts in the Gamma Quadrant are beginning to lose contact, Sisko sends Kira to track down Worf and Garak, who are already prisoners of the Jem’Hadar along with a dying Tain and the real General Martok, whom Worf had believed dead after he was replaced by a Changeling. Worf is shocked to find that Bashir – the real Bashir – is also a Dominion prisoner, which means that the doctor back on the station is a Changeling, too. Though angry that Garak has allowed himself to be taken prisoner, Tain asks Garak – whom he now acknowledges to be his son – to avenge his death. Worf desperately wishes to get back to the station to warn about all they have learned but can find no means of escape. While Dukat urgently tries to persuade Ziyal to leave the station and forget Garak, Sisko unleashes a desperate plan to close the wormhole permanently with the Prophets safe yet isolated inside and Garak and Worf trapped in the Gamma Quadrant. But as the Changeling Bashir looks on, the particle beams are disrupted, and the Jem’Hadar fleet comes through.
Analysis: “In Purgatory’s Shadow” is a plot-driven episode, and much of the character work isn’t great, but my esteem for it has gone up greatly in the years since it first aired, since it’s the end of the Cold War with the Dominion and the start of the arc that elevates Deep Space Nine far above its contemporary space operas. Just compare it to Babylon 5‘s abortive contemporary Shadow War. It’s not that I’m a fan of carnage or disaster porn; like so many people, what drew me to Roddenberry’s vision of the future in the first place was seeing a belief in humanity that had grown past such violence and destruction. But keeping the peace requires a lot of deus ex machina gatekeeping, notably the Organians and the Q, and it’s just not plausible that the vast majority of species in the universe could be talked into truces with one good rousing speech from a Starfleet captain. The situation with the Dominion has been increasingly unstable, and while I find it infuriating that Starfleet has a plan to trap the Jem’Hadar on their own side of the wormhole without asking Bajorans whether they would risk an invasion rather than accept isolation from its Celestial Temple, it’s very in keeping with Starfleet as we’ve seen it from Kirk’s era right on through Picard’s to make a decision about what’s good for everyone, even non-Federation members, when the Klingons/Borg/Cardassians become a threat. Cutting off the entire Alpha Quadrant from the Gamma Quadrant in the name of peace without having an open debate beforehand does indeed seem like something Starfleet would do. Given that “In Purgatory’s Shadow” is entirely about the build-up to a war, it manages to be about everything but that as well – even things as trivial in the grand scheme as Odo learning to sleep like a Changeling again, Dax and Worf arguing over the boundaries of their professional and personal relationships, and Kira bonding with the baby she carried for another mother.
Back to the character stuff, there’s a lot that lays the groundwork for interesting things later on, but there are also some things that still bother me, particularly where Kira is concerned. As poignant as I find Odo’s instant of regret when he acknowledges that being a shapeshifter again means he can never truly experience humanoid love with Kira, I wish she were thinking more with her head than her heart, sticking up for Bajoran rights concerning the wormhole rather than bowing to the will of the Emissary. I suppose we could read it as Kira assuming the Bajoran government being willing to go along with whatever the Emissary suggests, given what Bajor did the last time Sisko offered an opinion on a similarly huge decision – whether to join the Federation – but it’s disturbing that she’s more interested in praying than in asking Shakaar, the Kai, or one of the Orbs for guidance. Oddly, it’s Ziyal who’s gotten religion along with adolescent hormones. I’ve never been able to stomach her Oedipal obsession with Garak, a man of her father’s generation who treats her with a minimum of tolerance when he isn’t using her for information or taking advantage of her desperation to be accepted. At least the abortive romance now looks less like an attempt to give Garak a female love interest than like a plot-driven storyline to give Dukat’s daughter split loyalties as the Cardassian leader prepares to ingratiate himself with the Dominion. Garak has so much other wonderful material, finally getting Tain to admit to being his father and acknowledging that they share the same happy memories – I prefer to focus on that. But I’m supposed to believe a Changeling could so perfectly mimic Bashir’s interests and expertise that super-spy Garak, plus everyone with whom Bashir has worked for half a decade, might not notice the switch? The storyline begins and ends half-baked at best. In fact, the biggest sign that it’s not Real!Bashir may be that Changeling!Bashir is so disinterested in Ziyal’s overt erotic interest in the tinker/tailor/soldier/spy!
I love the few minutes of co-parental sniping between Dukat and Kira, and Dukat’s posturing over Ziyal, particularly in retrospect when we know the magnitude of betrayal he intends toward Kira and everyone else on the station. Plus it’s great to have the real Martok back, something I’d felt even before we’d had any inkling of how important he would become to Worf, to Starfleet, or to the Klingons. And, given the timeline, there’s some possibility that it was Changeling!Bashir who failed to save the infant that allowed Odo to become a shapeshifter again, which may have been part of the Dominion’s plan all along. I complain a lot when loose ends aren’t tied up, and this episode does a nice job of touching on many of them before launching the series in a new direction. We see why Garak’s loyalties won’t be with Cardassia, why Dukat’s daughter will be placed in an impossible position, and the beginning of the friendship that will put Worf back into the heart of Klingon politics. Plus we learn that Worf and Garak are hilarious together even when they’re not in the same scene (“At the first sign of betrayal, I will kill him. But, I promise to return the body intact.”). Yet there’s a conflict between what Garak declares to be the moral of his trip to rescue Tain, which might easily be interpreted as the moral of the episode – “Sentiment is the greatest weakness of all” – and the value Star Trek has always placed on friendships and relationships (see “Kirk throwing away his career and/or letting the Enterprise blow up so he can save Spock”). DS9 is always most impressive not when it focuses on the epic scope of Bajoran politics or the Jem’Hadar threat, but on the individuals who make up these struggles. If I once found the conclusion to “In Purgatory’s Shadow,” the not-yet-fully-baked “By Inferno’s Light,” to be something of a disappointment that cast its own shadow back onto this predecessor, I can see now that the weaknesses of these episodes and their reception are what led to the full complexity of the Dominion War arc, my all-time favorite TV science fiction storyline.