Sisko returns to Earth in the face of mounting evidence that changelings may have infiltrated the planet and caused sweeping changes in Starfleet.
Plot Summary: Sisko and Odo see evidence that a deadly explosion at a diplomatic conference on Earth was triggered by a changeling and travel to Earth to meet with Admiral Leyton, who asks Sisko to oversee Starfleet security there. This gives Sisko the opportunity to visit with his father, Joseph, a chef in New Orleans, and for Jake to see Nog, who is now a Starfleet cadet hoping to be chosen for the elite Red Squad. Sisko suggests security scans and blood screenings for Federation and Starfleet facilities, but the Federation president, Jaresh Inyo, resists these measures until Odo demonstrates how easily a Founder could infiltrate his office. Odo further proves his point when he spots Leyton at Starfleet HQ and demonstrates that the admiral has been replaced by a changeling. The real Leyton is very distressed and takes this as further proof of Dominion infiltration. Then Sisko learns that his own father has been arrested for refusing to submit to the blood test now mandatory for family members of Starfleet officers. While Sisko argues with Joseph, the older man cuts his finger and Sisko checks the knife, realizing that he believed for a moment that his own father might be a changeling. Later that night, the power relay systems for the planet go offline and Leyton gathers proof of sabotage. Because the wormhole has been opening and closing at odd intervals, which might mean cloaked ships have been passing through, Sisko and Leyton persuade Jaresh Inyo to declare a state of emergency and mobilize Starfleet troops all over the planet.
Curious why the elite Red Squad was demobilized just as the crisis began, Sisko asks questions of Starfleet Academy and learns that in fact the students were responsible for the power outage. When he investigates, he realizes that Leyton has no evidence of an imminent Dominion invasion but is planning to replace the Federation government with martial law, which Leyton believes to be the only way to protect Earth. Jaresh Inyo refuses to ask Leyton to step down without proof, so Sisko asks his crew on the Defiant to investigate and learns that the wormhole has been opening and closing because of a device planted near it on Leyton’s orders. He is also visited by a changeling in the form of O’Brien who explains that they need only four individuals on Earth to sow paranoia everywhere. Though Leyton orders Sisko back to Deep Space Nine, Sisko breaks into Leyton’s offices to figure out when he plans to move against the Federation president. But when Sisko tries to take his information to Jaresh Inyo, Leyton arrests him and forces him to take a blood test which appears to prove that Sisko is a changeling. Odo breaks Sisko out and goes to protect Jaresh Inyo while Sisko confronts Leyton, telling him that the Defiant is on its way, though Leyton has already told the captain of the Lakota that the Defiant’s crew have been replaced by changelings. Though outgunned, Worf is able to maneuver past the Lakota when its captain refuses to follow an order from Leyton to destroy the Defiant and kill all aboard. Leyton agrees to resign, but he warns Sisko that now all of Earth is vulnerable to the Dominion.
Analysis: The first time I posted reviews of “Homefront” and “Paradise Lost,” I complained that they were unsubtle and unrealistic. Today, finishing a review while watching the city of Boston on lockdown while the government searches for a terrorist who murdered civilians at a sporting event, the episodes seem nuanced and prescient. When Deep Space Nine first started down the path that led to the Dominion War arc, I didn’t like it; Starfleet started to look like it was run entirely by Evil Admirals, the characters never smiled, the science fiction slipped out of the stories in favor of military stuff. I still miss the optimism of the first two Trek shows, but I learned to love DS9 long before post-9/11 malaise made me come to believe that it was also the most important of the Trek series, the one that persistently engaged with the question not of how the future should look, but how we could get to such a future from where we are now. As horrible as it is seeing an American city with officers patrolling every street corner, I can’t pretend that the show’s just using scare tactics to tell us how bad things could get with Starfleet personnel crawling all over New Orleans. I only need to glance up at my television to see how bad things are in Boston today. Ultimately Sisko realizes that he’s on the verge of destroying all that’s valuable on Earth in order to protect it, yet the racial profiling, excuse me, the blood screening continues. If I’m uncomfortable with a Benjamin Sisko who accepts phaser sweeps and blood screening tests in the name of keeping civilians safe, I’m much more uncomfortable with a President of the United States – a man I voted for – accepting internet restrictions and drone strikes while citing similar logic.
There are parallels to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, not only because Admiral Cartwright is playing Sisko’s father, but because Starfleet is swept by the same paranoia and the (non-human) Federation president comes across as sophisticated, likeable, and hopelessly naive. There’s also a similar father-child family bonding theme, though in this case it’s among humans, not Vulcans or Klingons. Like Kirk and Picard always did when they had to go up against evil admirals, Sisko comes across as the only true moderate in all of the Federation, trying to balance personally ambitious people eager for war against civilian leaders who have no sense of how to respond to threats. Captain Benteen, who decides not to blow up the Defiant based only on Leyton’s say-so, grows a bit of a spine in the end, but for most of the two-parter she’s Leyton’s obedient lackey with no sense of why a Starfleet officer like herself would agree to assist with what’s essentially a plot to take over the world – does she want that captaincy so badly, is she frustrated with Starfleet bureaucracy, is she genuinely afraid of the Dominion even though she knows as well as Leyton that they haven’t actually blown out the power grid or snuck through the wormhole? Even his motives are left somewhat vague; he keeps claiming that he only wants to protect Earth, yet since he is himself the person he intends to put in charge of everything, it’s impossible to see him as anything other than a power-hungry dictator. If he was taking all these extreme steps to put someone else in charge, he’d be a more interesting character with more plausible motives.
Though I’m rather tired of the Star Trek staple of mothers being absent or irrelevant while fathers bond with sons, it’s pure joy to see three generations of Sisko men try to negotiate their roles as Jake becomes old enough that he no longer needs supervision and Grandpa becomes so old that he might. The dynamics among Brock Peters, Avery Brooks and Cirroc Lofton are so believable that I frequently forget these people aren’t really related to each other, and how interesting to see them bonding not over sports, music, beer, the interests we’re generally shown men as sharing, but preparing and serving food, something we already know Ben Sisko loves to do and learned from his dad. The scene in which Ben tries to persuade his father to take a blood test, in which we can see that he’s harboring the dread that Joseph has been replaced by a shapeshifter, is one of the best in the entire series. Peters’s Joseph makes an impassioned speech about human rights that rivals Picard’s in “The Measure of a Man” and Brooks’s Benjamin looks like he’s going to burst into tears of relief when he sees blood on the knife. Meanwhile Lofton plays an amiable, sometimes irritated teenager so convincingly and so consistently that it’s easy to overlook the fact that this is an actor playing a role. Meanwhile Colm Meaney does a superlative job playing an O’Brien-who’s-not-O’Brien, the changeling replica version who laughs too loudly and twists his mouth with a kind of sarcasm we never see from the Chief.
And Rene Auberjonois deserves kudos for balancing Odo’s amusing moments scowling at Dax with his creepy moments transforming from a briefcase and staring down the Federation president. I really don’t like how Odo gets treated in “Homefront” – doing tricks for the President and Benteen, serving as their test subject to determine how much pain a changeling would feel from phaser sweeps, the token shapeshifter brought in to show how easily changelings can “pass” among colleagues who look as if they can barely stand to be in a room with him. I really loathe Sisko telling Odo there are times he wishes he’d never found his people; if he means he wishes the Dominion had never become a problem, fine, but it sounds like ugly bigotry. It’s even worse when Odo says he sometimes feels the same way, not because of the sentiment – of course Odo’s conflicted, on the one hand he wants to belong and on the other he wants nothing to do with them – but because already we can see what we now know will happen in the end, all the ways Odo is reminded that he will never be a humanoid and never be fully accepted among them. By contrast, Rom admits he has some problems fitting in at Starfleet Academy, but it’s not like he’s a constant victim of anti-Ferengi bullying; he’s a good student and he’s convinced that if he just does something cool like getting on Red Squad, that will all disappear. Too bad he never gets to talk to Worf, who gets one of the best lines of the two-parter as a throwaway, when Kira laments that she wishes the Prophets were opening the wormhole to reveal themselves to Bajor: “Our gods are dead. Ancient Klingon warriors slew them a millennia ago. They were more trouble than they were worth.”
The open-endedness of the two-parter is one of the best things about the episodes, though like most Star Trek cliffhangers, the inevitable resolution with all the regulars put back in place isn’t as interesting to watch as the setup. It’s a smaller story – Sisko versus Leyton, not Federation values versus Dominion paranoia. Still, though Leyton’s planned coup is averted, all the problems that led him to scheme it remain. We know there are four changelings on Earth, one of whom committed an act of terrorism against Romulans as well as humans and one of whom knows an awful lot about O’Brien’s life on DS9. We get reminded that Sisko has loyalties to and from Bajorans that owe more to his role as Emissary than as a Starfleet captain. We see that Worf is increasingly competent captaining the Defiant, though it’s still Kira running the station when Sisko is put in charge of Earth security. And we have a glimpse of who Sisko becomes when pushed to the point of anger: he’s quite terrifying grilling the preppy cadet who reveals how Earth’s power systems were sabotaged, even more so putting Nog in his place, and he knows precisely when to stop trying to talk sense to Leyton but bite his head off instead. (As I said the first time I saw “Paradise Lost,” there are similarities to Riker in “The Pegasus,” when the equally paranoid Admiral Pressman brought up their past bond to try to get Riker behind him in an illegal project for what he perceives as Federation strength.) Sisko seems increasingly confident of what it means to be a Starfleet captain – his speeches sound more like Picard’s – and unlike Benteen he doesn’t ever put personal ambition ahead of what’s best for everyone around him, whether they’re Federation, Bajoran, or just his dad trying to run his restaurant.
“Paradise has never seemed so well armed.” It’s even more relevant now than when it aired, as is Sisko’s observation that you can’t make people prove they are who they say they are.