While Kira and Odo adjust to life on a Cardassian-occupied station, Sisko and crew take a Jem’Hadar ship deep into Cardassian space to destroy the supply of Ketracel-White in the Alpha Quadrant.
Plot Summary: Three months after Starfleet gave up Deep Space Nine, the war against the Dominion is going badly, though Dukat has not been able to bring down the minefield blocking the wormhole. When the Seventh Fleet suffers heavy casualties, Admiral Ross order Sisko to bring the Defiant to a starbase, where he relieves Sisko of command of the Defiant in order to send him and his crew on a different mission: they are to take the Jem’Hadar ship captured by Sisko the year before behind enemy lines so that they can destroy the ketracel-white facility in Cardassian space, leaving the Jem’Hadar unable to function. Because the Cardassians have had more success using Dominion technology than humans have had, Sisko brings Garak on the mission. Because their mission is a secret, they must flee from an attack by Starfleet’s USS Centaur before they enter Cardassian space. Meanwhile, on the station now known as Terok Nor, Weyoun and Dukat struggle for dominance and Dukat tries to flirt with Kira, whose loathing for him only deepens. She tells Odo that she believes Dukat wants to reopen the labor camps on Bajor, but Odo points out that the Dominion has an interest in treating Bajor fairly as an ally. Odo reluctantly approaches Weyoun, who treats him as a god, to ask to have his Bajoran deputies reinstated, to which Weyoun agrees at once, asking Odo to become a member of the station’s ruling council. Odo thinks this will give him more power over Dukat, but Kira is afraid it will look like an endorsement of the Dominion. Sisko and his crew successfully beam down canisters to the Dominion supply facility, ostensibly to be filled with ketracel-white but really rigged to explode. They carefully time their departure, but when the bomb detonates early, destroying the facility, their ship’s warp drive is damaged, stranding them 17 years from the nearest starbase.
Analysis: There’s an argument that since Gene Roddenberry’s original intent was to show a peaceful, progressive future, “real” Star Trek fans should not get excited about episodes focused on war. But as much as I love the idealism of the original series, I will confess that “A Time To Stand” is one of my very favorite episodes. It’s not perfectly written – the balance between the simmering conflict and the personal character storylines plays out awkwardly at times, and Starfleet comes off looking particularly unimpressive (losing most of a fleet in a battle may not be their fault, but really, no one thought to put chairs on the Jem’Hadar ship?). Yet the sense of a universe simultaneously vast and intimate, threatening and wonderful, is conveyed superbly in this episode, which begins not only the arc to start the sixth season but the storyline that will see Deep Space Nine through to its conclusion. Here, we get a pretty good idea that the Dominion War will not be like the abortive conflicts with the Romulans or the Borg. Though the casualties are still pretty far away, we see how upset the crew is, and we get hints that it’s going to hit home for a lot of people. Life may go on – Worf and Dax may still be planning a wedding, Sisko may still be struggling to hold his family together, Kira and Odo may still be striving to redefine their friendship, Bashir may still be trying to figure out how to behave now that people know he’s genetically enhanced – yet everything now takes place under threat of war, or worse, surrender. The safety net of a quadrant that encompasses Martok and Garak and Joseph Sisko is under grave threat. The newest recurring character, Admiral Ross, arrives to oversee the changes, and though he’s arguably the best Starfleet admiral we ever see in action, he’s also the most upsetting, the one whose expertise is combat, not keeping the peace.
It’s apparent that the rules have changed not only when Sisko enthusiastically agrees to help kill thousands of Jem’Hadar soldiers by cutting off access to the drug to which they are addicted for life, but in smaller ways: the naivete of Jake believing his enemies will allow him freedom of the press and unfettered access to their leaders, the misplaced optimism with which Sisko’s father asks why space is no longer big enough for everyone to share. In this strange new universe, Odo – the person on the station who’s always seemed least interested in power – reluctantly takes Kira’s advice and tries to use Weyoun’s instinctive worship of changelings to everyone’s advantage, only to be offered a position so lofty that it makes Kira uncomfortable, though Odo believes it’s worth pursuing if for no other reason than Dukat opposes it. Since we’ve learned of Odo’s background, his rather black-and-white views of justice seem less a product of his chaotic upbringing on Bajor, but perhaps something innate to all the Founders, who seem to have equally rigid views on order and chaos. Kira asks him for help primarily to benefit Bajor and is taken aback when she realizes that Odo may be looking at a different big picture. She believes that Odo would never betray her, but she hasn’t taken into account the ways he may be affected by proximity to the empire his species has built. Though Odo has always been quite isolated, he is now also pivotal – the most important person on the station to both Kira and Weyoun, the only one equally invested in the Federation and the Dominion. Weyoun trusts Odo for some of the very reasons that Dukat does not. Then there are perpetual outsiders Quark and Garak, both of whom make surprising choices: Garak to risk his life on what may be a suicide mission in Cardassian space, Quark to forgo laments about profit to point out that however bad things seem, there are no starving children or dying Bajoran workers, so there’s still some cause for celebration.
As interesting as it is to watch new wrinkles form in Kira’s camaraderie with Odo, it’s her ongoing connection to Dukat that really ignites in “A Time To Stand.” He’s confident that, one way or another, he can ingratiate himself with her, while she’s now sorry that she didn’t kill him when she had the chance. When his initial sleazy attempts to woo her, promising that he can make her position on the station very pleasant, lead only to her asking that he start by doing something about his breath, he turns bullying, touching her so inappropriately that she hits him. Yet she knows that his interest in her gives her a unique opportunity to make him listen to her, and indeed, he appears to be paying attention when she cites the cost of his strengthening Cardassia by selling it to the Dominion, which has a very different agenda for Bajor and the quadrant. In a strange way, Kira’s clash with Dukat is the most balanced of any of her relationships with men. There’s no part of her that defers to him as she does to the Emissary, no need to be careful of his feelings as she is with Odo, no romantic impulses making her soften her views as she did on occasion with Bareil and Shakaar. Whether she’s his prisoner or a fellow soldier, she is very much Dukat’s equal and often his opposite, which is not always true of the established couples on DS9. As awful as I always found Dukat, and as relieved as I was when the writers decided not to try to rehabilitate him but to let his megalomania play out to its logical conclusion, I won’t deny that I enjoy watching him try to impress Kira, something he has spent nearly his entire life making impossible. It’s more fun than Dax and Worf’s tedious wedding argument, though I do have a soft spot for Bashir using his “boyish smile” to demonstrate to Garak that his genetic enhancements don’t mean he’s a Vulcan. And Sisko is so good at what he does that he’s almost easy to overlook. The visible heroes of the Dominion raid are Bashir, as the math genius, Garak, as everyone’s eyes and ears, and O’Brien, as the engineer, but Sisko holds it all together.