Retro Review: In Purgatory’s Shadow


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.

What do you think? Chat with other fans in the Star Trek: Deep Space nine forum at The Trek BBS.

Michelle Erica Green


Michelle Erica Green

Writer, mother, reader, traveler, teacher, partner, photographer, activist, friend, fangirl, student, critic, citizen, environmentalist, feminist, vegetarian, enthusiast. TrekToday staffer for many years, former news reporter, current retro reviewer.

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  • Ward3

    I don’t know – I have watched In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light a couple of times this week. There is nothing that grabs my attention more than Garak (except for Worf with Garak) in this episode. I always found the Changeling replacements a bit weak, but OK, that’s a plot device.

    Garak with Enabran Tain as his father – whoa! That is the part of this episode that really grabbed me, and really made Garak one of my favourite characters in the series. That he lied to include the real Bashir as part of the end of life conversation showed more trust than I have seen from Garak in most episodes. Poor Garak – that seems to be the key to him, all wrapped up in a 5 minute conversation.

    As for the rest, perhaps Kira could have protested more about the possible destruction of the celestial temple of her prophets, but she has had trouble, in matters of the Prophets, in dealing with the Emissary, or arguing with the Emissary. I don’t know that it would be possible for her to do this at this point in her development. Maybe yes, maybe no, but that for me is not the point of the episode – Garak is.

  • Just a Guest

    Here we go again with Michelle and her endless crap about Garak, Ziyal, and Bashir, *sigh*. I don’t really care anyway, for me this episode was the start of DS9’s downhill slide (aka the Dominion War, hated every minute of it), the best parts of this story for me were Worf teaching Jem Hadar the meaning of honor (“I can not defeat this man, I can only kill him, and that no longer interests me.”), and and Bashir being something other than a whiny pain in the buttocks.

    I also disagree entirely with Michelle’s comment about the Q stopping wars, that never happened not even once, the only conflict Q ever stopped was when he returned the Enterprise to Federation space when the very first Borg ship ever encountered was about to destroy them. The problem there is that Q is responsible for starting that conflict by transporting the Enterprise to Borg space in the first place, and therefore for all resulting conflicts with the Borg, a far cry from peacemaker. The Organians only stopped one potential war between the Klingons and the Federation, they never interfered again, not when Kruge was trying to obtain weapons of planetary destruction, not when Gorkon was assassinated, not when Gowron tossed the Khitomer Accords out the airlock, just the one single time (course thats probably cause Berman couldn’t comprehend energy beings, but with his limited imagination that isn’t surprising).

    I disagree with the concept that it is not always possible to avoid war, that way of thinking is why war can’t be avoided, if people believe they can find another way then they usually can.

  • dh

    Haters gonna hate.

  • Just a Guest

    So what, you got a problem with people who hate war? Or were you maybe referring to my negative comments about Berman? Cause in that case I don’t give a crap, Berman sucked donkey balls, every Trek show he “created” only got good when new people were brought in on them, Like Manny Coto and the last season of Enterprise, DS9 after Worf (and there was a change in the creative team at that point also), or Voyager after 7 of 9 (and yet again a change in creative team). Berman didn’t even pay attention to the continuity of his own shows, I remember a DS9 episode that said there were no cloaking devices in the mirror universe, yet Enterprise had mirror Archer’s ship using a cloak. Berman couldn’t even be bothered to do some basic quality control.

  • Igorlex

    Just a Guest, go read the DS9 companion by the Erdmanns! It’s very good, full of details and interviews with staff and cast. The change in creative team and onus really occured in season two, in the run up to Ira Behr taking over the show officially in season three. From the beginning of the third season he was showrunner, until the end. Berman had no deep day-to-day impact on the show, i think (from the Companion) that even in season one it was others like Michael Pillar and Peter Allen Fields. Also the prob with the Mirror Universe cloaking device was entirely a fub on the DS9 staff’s point: something they admit in said book.

  • Igorlex

    Have you ever read Andrew Robinson’s ‘autobiographical’ book about Garak, ‘A Stitch in Time’ ( It’s very very good. and a brilliant view into Robinson’s own views on portraying the character.

    Also the character has had excellent development since in books by British author Una McCormack, in a way that is very faithful to show and Robinson. These are

    – Hollow Men, a follow-up to In the Pale Moonlight (

    – ‘The Never-Ending Sacrifice’ about Rugal from Cardassians (,

    – ‘The Lotus Flower’, a follow-up to ‘Stitch’ and other DS9 books (,

    – ‘Brinkmanship’ (

    – and her latest, and perhaps best, ‘The Crimson Shadow’ (

  • Ward3

    No, I haven’t. I just fell in love with DS9 in the last 2 months and have a lot of catching up to do. I am hoping to get ‘A Stitch in Time’ sometime soon. Thanks for the heads-up about the other books.

  • Igorlex

    Your welcome, they are most excellent books (esp. The Never-Ending Sacrifice and The Crimson Shadow). My ex even read NES without liking Trek and loved it.

    DS9 is the most complex and interesting of the Treks, for sure. As I recommended the man above, the Deep Space Nine companion ( is perhaps the best in-depth look into the series, with producers, writers, cast and guests interviewed, often at some depth. When I watch an episode, it’s read either with or after.

  • Just a Guest

    See here is the problem with your statement. First, no matter when Ira Behr came on with DS9, it doesn’t change the fact that the show got much better after he came on board, just like Enterprise with Manny Coto, and Voyager with Jeri Taylor, all three shows improved drastically when new personnel were brought on board (despite my extreme distaste for the DS9 Dominion War the show was still better than seasons 1 and 2). Secondly, as Executive Producer, responsibility for all missteps and screw-ups is Berman’s, he was the boss, the buck starts and stops there.

  • Igorlex

    I think that is too simplistic, and doesn’t relate to the role of Berman, who was not showrunner, who indeed was barely involved in the show after its creation – not even really in S1. He wasn’t in charge, he wasn’t the boss, he wasn’t involved – indeed Behr praises how much the studio left him, and before hand Pillar, alone. Berman wasn’t even a liason between the show and the studio. Also Behr was in the writer’s room from S1.

    Berman (and to a lesser extent) Braga have become creative boogiemen in Trek culture, without any significant undestanding of – or desire to seek understanding of – the manner in which the Trek series were made. Don’t just read Memery Alpha and complaining blogs on the internet, but seek out sources from the time, such as the Companion, and listen to interviews with these guys – Berman, the late Michael Pillar, Behr, etc. Talking about history, be a historian.

    Also the showrunners for Voyager were

    S1&2: Michael Pillar and Jeri Taylor
    S3-4: Jeri Taylor
    S5-6: Brannon Braga
    S7: Kenneth Biller

  • Just a Guest

    You keep wanting to argue that Berman wasn’t responsible because he was “hands off” and the reality is that does not matter. You say he was not the boss. Well then why was he the Executive Producer and “Head” of the Franchise? That is the boss’s title, if he wasn’t the boss, then he should not have been called Executive Producer or Head of the franchise.

    Let me try to explain it another way, in ST6 (and several other places) the point is made that the captain of a starship is responsible for the conduct and actions of the crew under his command, whether he is aware of them or not, and he can be charged with crimes committed by his crew. If a corporation is found responsible for illegal activities (like say dumping toxic waste) then the President of that division of the corporation is responsible for those actions. If I was the Boss at a business and my employees were stealing from said business then I would be responsible for it to the owners.

    Regarding the “showrunner” on Voyager, in season 1 and 2 the opening credits of Voyager list the creators as Rick Berman and Michael Pillar. Starting with the first episode of season 3 that same credit reads Rick Berman, Michael Pillar, and Jeri Taylor. As a “Creator” Taylor had much more direct control over the content of the show than she had as “showrunner”.

    For the record, since you made some assumptions about where I was getting my information (and assumptions are the mother of all f—ups), I don’t read Memory Alpha, or Blogs, never have, and have no interest in doing so.

  • Igorlex

    But the mistakes you pick up are silly themselves. They are not illegal activities, just creative errors. They are not the mistakes a company head is responsible for – they are the equivalent of a PR team misquoting some figures on a marketing product, the heads of that team admitting this and you wanting blood from the company CEO for something he likely didn’t need to know til it was released. Or a journalist making mistakes in an article, afterwards acknowledging these and you wanting not even the editor fired or hung or whatever else, but the head of the board of governors. Again not theft or other much worse things. I don’t know why you made this hyperbolic leap: these mistakes are just silly, inconsequential pieces of information that ultimately don’t matter – it’s a made up univerise, and these kinds of information were contradicted how many times throughout Trek? I don’t think we want to count, from The Cage to Into Darkness and the books, comics and other stuff made with the IPs.

    Why not argue more on the faults of that which a franchise or division head is responsible – people management, budgeting, overall creative and brand issues, etc. I’d hesitate to offer perhaps Berman that lacked vision for the franchise after x no. of years on TNG and made bad creative and management decisions with all the elements of the TNG era. My biggest bugbear is the killing of varied music composition, it seems, during TNG which results in a subdued and repetitive soundtrack to most of the Berman series: but I don’t know if that was Berman alone, or others too, or even him! Perhaps there needed to be new blood and lots more thought in the offices about 1993. But there were also issues like what the UPN execs ultimately wanted that affected the later two series.

    Anyway, I feel this argument is not such a good use of our time, nor will it result in either of us convincing the other. I’m sorry I made assumptions about your sources. In truth, i wasn’t saying such sources were not invalid either, merely that they need to be balanced – along with whatever else you use. Memory Alpha is good as it quotes a lot of older sources, like the Companions, but rather selectively (as is allowable I think within fair use). I like the DS9 companion because the interviews within are often introspective and critical of decisions made, but still explain the process behind said mistake or even disaster (like ‘Let He who is without sin’). In any case, we can both agree Berman made errors, but I think in different manners.

  • Captain Jon

    According to your argument based on ST6, Rick Berman should accept responsibility for everything his name is on. Correct? Well, at the end of every episode of DS9, Voyager and Enterprise, Berman’s name is listed as “Executive Producer”. Even when Ira Steven Behr, Jeri Taylor, Brannon Braga and Manny Coto became showrunners of their respective series, Berman’s name was still attached. He was still The Boss, regardless of how limited his involvement was.

    So according to your argument, Berman is responsible for all the accomplishments of those series, whether they be positive or negative.

    Also, I believe you’re wrong about the creator having more direct control over the content than the showrunner. Yes, the creator forms the premise, the characters and everything else. But the showrunner has ultimate control over what goes on with those pieces. Once the creator is no longer involved, they lose that control. Rick Berman was never a showrunner. He was a bean counter hired by the studio. He provided creative input, but it was ultimately his fellow-creators who ran the shows. With DS9, Michael Piller was showrunner for the first 2-1/2 seasons. Halfway through season 3, Piller left DS9 to run Voyager with Jeri Taylor and Ira Steven Behr took over for the rest of the series. Piller and Taylor ran Voyager together for its first two seasons before Piller left Voyager after Season 2, leaving Taylor to run the show herself until Braga took over in Season 5. Rick Berman never ran the shows the way the others did, though he did have plenty of creative input.

  • Captain Jon

    I think this is a fantastic episode! One of Trek’s best! I disagree with Michelle’s comment that the character work wasn’t great, even though a majority of what I read would seem to imply that she disagrees with herself. She gives the character work a lot of praise. Is it just me?

    Anyway, I thought the character work was excellent!