As a Federation fleet attempts to retake the station, Odo and Ziyal must both choose where their loyalties lie.
Plot Summary: Sisko orders the Federation fleet to create a hole in the Cardassian line so that several ships can get through in time to knock out Deep Space Nine’s antigraviton beam, which will save the minefield obstructing the Dominion fleet. Starfleet’s ships are badly outnumbered until the Klingons arrive, and only the Defiant gets through the line to head toward the station, where Damar has had Kira, Jake, and Leeta taken into custody so that they can’t sabotage the antigraviton beam from within. Desperate to save his brother, Quark approaches Ziyal, who agrees to help him free the prisoners. Though Odo is still more concerned with the Great Link than with the war, when the Founder tells him that Kira will be executed, he goes to help the woman he loves take the station’s weapons offline. But Kira and Rom are too late to stop the antigraviton pulse that destroys the minefield, allowing Weyoun to summon the Dominion fleet. To save the Alpha Quadrant, Sisko takes the Defiant into the wormhole on a suicide mission to try to slow the invasion, but he is intercepted by the wormhole aliens, who insist that the Emissary must not die. Sisko tells them that if they truly care about the Bajorans, they must act as Prophets and protect Bajor now. The Prophets warn Sisko that such an act will require a sacrifice and that he will find no peace on Bajor, yet they return him to the Defiant in time for him to witness the annihilation of the entire Dominion fleet. Since Rom has successfully disabled DS9’s weapons, the Cardassians take heavy casualties from the Starfleet and Klingon ships, prompting the Founder to order a retreat to Cardassia. Dukat will not leave the station without Ziyal, but when his daughter refuses to leave, admitting that she helped free the Federation prisoners, Damar overhears the confession and kills her. As Worf and Dax reunite amidst celebration on the station, Kira and Garak mourn for Ziyal, and Dukat suffers a psychotic break, promising a future to his dead daughter and forgiving Sisko as well.
Analysis: A nearly perfect episode, “Sacrifice of Angels” is one of several in the last two seasons that touches upon every major theme and plot development of the series, using the ensemble of characters to superlative effect. Even those who only get a few minutes of screen time – Bashir and O’Brien reciting “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and planning to relive the Battle of Britain, Dax and Worf determined that it isn’t a good day to die since they haven’t yet gotten married – reinforce the sense of community and continuity, while those who do play major roles experience life-changing events. Forced to weigh fortune against family, Quark risks his life for Rom; forced to decide between humanoid love and the Great Link, Odo betrays the Founder and saves Kira; forced to choose between loyalties to Cardassia and Bajor, Ziyal defies her father; and forced to act as the Emissary at a moment when he’s deeply invested in his role as a Starfleet captain, Sisko accepts his destiny as the of deliverer of the Bajorans. As for Dukat, who also envisions himself a savior of Bajor, when he must choose between the clear-headed focus of a leader regrouping after a defeat or surrendering to his grief, the madness wins. I know several Dukat fans who were unhappy with this development, who had believed that he was merely misguided and that under Kira’s tutelage he might change, but the thread of megalomania and self-absorption has run through his entire storyline, and his breakdown is only a different manifestation of a psychosis we’ve seen hints of all along. I don’t actually think it’s Ziyal’s death that pushes him over the edge, but realizing that once again, he has lost everything. It’s apparent by now that Cardassia isn’t everything to Dukat; Bajor is, and Cardassia is just a means to approach Bajor. He hasn’t been fazed by political disgrace, nor by losing his family over Ziyal’s mixed-race status. But – as Dukat explains to Weyoun – since he defines victory as making one’s enemies see that they were wrong, he now believes that has lost every opportunity for that. It will take a further descent into madness and a deal with the Bajoran devil for him to rise again.
If we’re beginning to see the depths to which Dukat will sink to cling to his fantasy of being Bajor’s benevolent leader and guardian, we’re also seeing the terrifying consequences of being the chosen one of Bajor’s Prophets. Informed that they will not let him die even though they claim that corporeal matters do not concern then, Sisko points out that Bajor has concerned them for centuries and asks for a miracle on behalf of its people: “Stop those ships.” He doesn’t say how – he doesn’t specifically ask for the deaths of the thousands of Jem’Hadar aboard the ships – but he certainly understands the implication, and the Prophets do as well, telling him that a penance will be exacted, though we never learn exactly what happens to all the lives in that fleet. I suppose, in retrospect, that we all should have realized right here that Sisko eventually would give up his life for Bajor, the ultimate penance for such an act. Dramatically, mythically, no less will do. The Emissary is no longer a conduit from the wormhole aliens to the Bajorans, but the opposite, the corporeal entity who reminds the Prophets that they have a responsibility to these people with whose lives they have meddled. When the aliens chastise him for trying to control the game, announcing that a penance must be exacted, then adding that he will find no rest on Bajor and his pagh must follow another path, it sounds as if there’s a causal relationship between Sisko’s request for aid against the Dominion and his ultimate fate. But these non-temporal entities already know Sisko’s future (and, indeed, created Sisko’s past, sending a Prophet to his biological parents to be certain that Sisko would be born). Because they exist outside of linear time, the Prophets have struggled to understand Sisko’s grief over Jennifer’s death and fear about Bajor’s future. Is the penance that must be exacted for Sisko or for themselves? Is Dukat’s eventual treachery and the return of the Pah-wraiths a punishment for themselves as much as for their Emissary? This crucial moment when the Prophets intervene in Bajor’s name to save the Alpha Quadrant changes the Prophets as well as Sisko.
I don’t know whether to be pleased or unnerved at how easily Kira returns to the role of terrorist, necessary for her survival and the survival of her people during the Cardassian occupation. Once again, she is fighting for Bajor’s freedom, yet there’s also no denying that she’s good at this sort of work, she enjoys it – particularly when she gets to do things like bash Damar’s face in – and she’s comfortable with herself as she does it, with none of the angst that Starfleet officers express when they have to resort to similar tactics. There’s an amazing contrast going on between what Dukat thinks it means to love her and what Odo thinks it means, yet it’s clear that Kira isn’t ready to get close to anyone right now. It has to be intimidating to know that, as much as she needs Odo to break away from the Great Link and rejoin her struggle, she’s asking him to give up a world for her once again, and he’s agreeing to it without any expectation that she will ever love him as anything more than a friend. The link may be paradise for Odo, yet apparently he loves Kira more than paradise. The love stories of Rom and Leeta, Dax and Worf, Sisko and Yates, O’Brien and Bashir – oops, I meant O’Brien and Keiko – all pale beside this one, yet it’s conflicted and even agonizing at times, creating a level of emotional intensity that’s the most real thing on the show right now. It’s greatly appreciated that this battle doesn’t wrap up the war – we hear Weyoun suggesting wiping out the population of Earth to an incredulous Dukat, who finds genocide much less satisfying than surrender, and the female Changeling believes without hesitation that Odo will come back to the Great Link. Even the horrible act committed here by Damar, the murder of Ziyal in front of her father, will shape the man he becomes and the choices he makes, which will ultimately save Cardassia. The game must continue, the Dukat-Prophet tells Sisko in the Celestial Temple, and it does, as Dukat hands Sisko his baseball back.