While the life of a crewmember hangs in the balance, Sisko struggles to gain control of a Jem’Hadar warship that crashed on a Gamma Quadrant planet.
Plot Summary: In the Gamma Quadrant to look for a planet for a mining operation, Sisko and an away team witness the crash of a Jem’Hadar warship. Sisko orders the runabout in orbit to beam them to the site to look for survivors, but when they arrive, they realize that the damaged vessel is a Jem’Hadar warship. Inside, they find dozens of dead Dominion soldiers. Believing the entire crew to be dead, Sisko decides to tow the ship back to Deep Space Nine, summoning the Defiant for that purpose. But while O’Brien and Muniz try to repair the warship, another Jem’Hadar ship arrives, destroying the runabout and beaming down Jem’Hadar who open fire. Forced to hide in the downed ship, Sisko is hailed by a Vorta named Kilana who requests a meeting to discuss a peaceful resolution. She wants the ship, and in return promises to take Sisko and his crew safely back to DS9. While Sisko is refusing, expressing his distrust since she killed the crew on his runabout, a Jem’Hadar beams into the downed ship and sets up a sensor device. O’Brien and Dax ward off the soldier, who is armed only with a knife, which makes the crew guess that there must be something on the ship that the attackers want too badly to risk damaging it. Muniz is slowly dying and Worf suggests that O’Brien let him die as a warrior, but O’Brien is furious and Dax angers Sisko when she mocks the posturing men. Kilana then offers to trade the downed ship for its cargo but Sisko won’t agree unless she tells him what’s on board. While explosions outside rock the ship, O’Brien restores power, but the ship’s warp core begins to breach and Muniz dies. Sisko and Dax discover a changeling aboard, but it is too weak to hold a solid shape, and when it dies, the Jem’Hadar kill themselves for their failure. Sisko tells Kilana that their mutual distrust has caused the deaths of many of his people and her own. Though Starfleet is pleased at his recovery of the downed warship, Sisko can’t stop thinking about the cost in sentient life.
Analysis: Listen, children, to a story that was written long ago… Okay, the parallels to “One Tin Soldier” aren’t exact, but the moral is the same and stated in an even more heavy-handed manner than in the Lambert-Potter song. Were it not for that extremely clunky ending, I would rate this a good-to-excellent episode, but the preachiness and Sisko’s overly dramatic misery undercuts the rest of the drama, so that what I remember are not the very well acted scenes between the dying Muniz and nearly everyone else, nor the interesting tension of an an away mission gone horribly awry, but the contrivance of Sisko suddenly wanting to be a Starfleet hero and his immediate attachment to crewmembers we’ve never even heard of before. Really, all Sisko needs to do for most of the episode is stall. Sure, the Jem’Hadar are trying to intimidate him and Kilana keeps trying to smoke him out, but he knows something they do not, that the Defiant is on its way, and he has no reason to believe that whatever the Dominion wants aboard its downed warship is perishable, considering that Kilana doesn’t try very hard to negotiate for it. Since it’s clear all along that she’s lying about this being her first mission, how can she be so incompetent with the life of a god hanging in the balance? Wouldn’t it make far more sense to offer Sisko the ship at once so long as he’ll let her personally retrieve a critical item on board? Even if she believes he’s brutal and would shoot a Founder on sight, she’d have a better chance of sneaking the Founder away disguised as a package of Ketracel-white than trying to scare the crew off a ship it’s clear she won’t risk blowing up. She’s pretty terrible at what she does (“I regret that” over and over), which, considering there’s the life of a god at stake, makes her an odd choice for the Founders or Vorta or whoever picked the rescue team to have chosen to go deal with Sisko and his crew.
Sisko mostly comes across looking better, at least until the end when he went way overboard with the recriminations and self-doubt. I love that he doesn’t agonize at the beginning about what to do, even with everyone from the runabout dead and Muniz dying; he knows Starfleet will want that ship, and he knows, as Dax reminds him at the end, that this is a case where the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, that understanding the workings of a Jem’Hadar warship may save many more lives than are lost on this mission. He doesn’t get bogged down in big questions of interference or try singlehandedly to force an understanding from this one mission that will end hostilities everywhere. It’s a little strange that he cites Earth’s ancient right of salvage to lay claim to the ship, since they’re not necessarily something anyone in the Gamma Quadrant would know about, let alone accept, but I could see both Picard and Janeway agonizing over whether they have the right to be seizing the ship in the first place and debating it among their crewmembers, while Sisko very decisively announces that the ship is his top priority. I wish he didn’t appear to waver later on. Of course I’m glad that he mourns his lost crew so deeply, particularly Muniz, whom we get to know, but the people from the runabout are dead before Kilana ever hails him – that might be considered an act of war as well as straight-up murder, he has no reason to be blaming himself for not trusting her when that was their introduction to one another – and considering that we know Bashir isn’t on the Defiant since he’s in trouble back on the station for a medical import that Quark used as an excuse for smuggling, there’s no proof that Sisko could have saved Muniz no matter what decisions he made. I’m impressed to see him broken up by the deaths of crewmembers, so much so that he seems to have doubts about the moral superiority of Starfleet, but it’s a strange moment for such thoughts, with the Dominion conflict rapidly heating up.
Kilana is infuriating in nearly every way; it’s immediately obvious that she’s a liar and a manipulator, and it’s soon obvious that she’s not very good at either. Why, if the Vorta are a created species with their DNA manipulated by the Founders, do the females engage in what the sci-fi world treats as universal feminine behavior, flirting and using their wicked wiles to lure men away from their true calling? Is it necessary for females of every single species to employ their sexuality as a means of distracting males, which is just as insulting to the concept of masculinity as it is to the concept of femininity, the idea that even though a few tough guys like Sisko and Picard may be able to resist (and Picard not in all cases – not if it’s Vash, anyway), most men will promptly start thinking with the wrong part of their anatomy? If the Founders have studied humans in general and Sisko in particular, they should know that if the charming woman from the planet of exiled humans with no technology couldn’t distract Sisko from his goals, then a probable enemy alien playing dumb wasn’t going to make any impact. Sisko’s smart enough not to play these games, so how come the writers don’t give their viewers as much credit and let Kilana use wit instead of long eyelashes to try to get to Sisko? At least Dax keeps her head while all about her are losing theirs, though Sisko promptly blames that on her.
It’s interesting to see how the crew deals with failure, something we don’t get to see all that often on the show. I want to smack Worf for being so stupid and insensitive, suggesting that all species should face death and grief the way Klingons do – instead of snapping at Dax, Sisko should give Worf a hard lesson in cultural sensitivity, especially considering that Worf’s been exiled by the Klingons. Even in the end, when he joins O’Brien’s vigil, he does it because it’s something the Klingons would do, not because he wants to show solidarity with the grieving human. While the surliness may be more realistic than all the bonding during last season’s “Starship Down,” not all of it is well thought out. To create the sense that O’Brien and Muniz have known each other for a long time, the writers have them keep riffing on the same themes, but then it starts to feel like those are the only things they’ve ever said to one another and the friendship seems contrived. Dax taking Worf off for a sensitivity lesson seems badly timed, considering how much flirting she’s been doing with him and the fact that we know now they’ll be lovers by the end of the next episode. The sets and lighting convey claustrophobia effectively, yet it never feels like things are truly coming to a boil, so Sisko’s lecture-rant at the end sounds very over the top. This isn’t the right scenario for Sisko to be beating himself up over having made the wrong choices and lost crewmembers under his command. It’s always sad when the warlike people kill the peaceful people, but Sisko couldn’t have prevented it here any more than the mountain people could have saved themselves in “One Tin Soldier.”