Damar calls upon Cardassia to change sides, and Winn finds out who’s been sleeping in her bed.
Plot Summary: Worf and Dax’s welcome is interrupted by a message that the Breen have attacked Earth, destroying San Francisco around Starfleet headquarters. While Weyoun and Thot Gor celebrate, Damar meets secretly with Rusot to plan sabotage against the Dominion. Sisko and Yates fight about her plan to keep working despite the recent Breen attacks, an argument that becomes moot when Admiral Ross arrives to tell Sisko that the Dominion has broken through defenses at Chin’toka and that Sisko must take the Defiant into battle. Meanwhile, on Bajor, Winn cancels all her appearances to study the forbidden text of the Kosst Amojan, but neither she nor Dukat can make the Pah-wraiths’ words appear on the book’s blank pages. When Dukat insults Solbor for warning the Kai against such research, Solbor investigates the Kai’s new adviser. In battle, Breen energy weapons disrupt all of the Defiant’s systems, and the crew is forced to abandon ship just before it explodes. The Founder tells Weyoun not to destroy the escape pods so that the demoralized survivors can return to tell Starfleet of their losses. On Bajor, Solbor informs Winn that her guide and lover is actually Dukat. Realizing that exposure will cost her everything, Winn stabs Solbor, then tries to destroy the dark book. Blood drips from the knife onto the pages, making the words appear. Unable to resist the lure of such power, Winn begins to read, letting Dukat hide Solbor’s body. Ross promises Sisko a new ship but says that Starfleet has no idea how to counteract the Breen weapons. The mood is bleak when Kira interrupts, summoning them to a viewscreen, where Damar is announcing that Cardassian troops have destroyed the Dominion cloning facilities and calling on his people to fight the Dominion troops occupying their territories. As Weyoun begins to hunt for Damar, Sisko and Kira agree that saving their onetime Cardassian enemy may be the key to saving the Alpha Quadrant.
Analysis: “The Changing Face of Evil” may be an even better episode than “Strange Bedfellows,” an episode I’ve described as perfect, which doesn’t give me much room for a higher rating. Battle episodes are usually not my favorite, and this is the second most significant battle we’ve seen on Deep Space Nine (plus I’m not even sure the first counts, since it was won via a cheat by the Prophets). Yet the actual fighting takes barely a minute of screen time, which is more effective than a drawn-out battle. After blasting apart the Golden Gate Bridge – something Martok points out the Klingons have never tried – the Breen take one good shot at the Defiant, and that’s it: boom, it’s gone. Whenever the various Enterprises or Voyager has been destroyed, even in alternate timelines, we’ve generally gotten the death throes belabored on the screen. Here, the big picture is so much larger that Sisko himself has to accept the fact that he must say goodbye and move on. He’s very lucky that when she made the decision to let them go home and tell scary stories of war, the Founder did not yet know of Damar’s defection, or she might have decided that nothing tells a scary story like a massive casualty report. At least Sisko will go home to Yates with a more balanced sense of what counts as having a spouse in a dangerous job. Dax and Bashir, at least, seem to be taking such issues in stride, and it’s nice to be reminded that young Ezri can be just as juvenile as Julian. O’Brien’s misery over the loss of one of his Alamo dolls – excuse me, action figures – and Dax’s defensiveness to Worf about her crush’s pastimes, not to mention the central place his bromance with his best friend holds in his life, makes for a welcome snicker during the tension of the build-up to the battle. The battle scene is much less about the scary new Breen energy weapon and much more about how these characters who’ve fought side by side face a new threat together, which makes it a real pleasure to watch even when Kira’s getting knocked out of the pilot’s seat and Sisko’s making the devastating decision to watch the Defiant die.
At the moment, the Breen are looking scarier than the Founders, which sort of begs the question of why they’ve chosen this moment to team up and try to conquer the Alpha Quadrant; it seems likely that if they’d wanted to, they could have tried instead to unite the Klingons (who are impressed with their warrior tactics) and Romulans (who surely appreciate their scheming and stealth) against the Federation without needing assistance from the Dominion. On the other hand, Damar, who was once more hateful than Dukat, is suddenly looking like a hero, a man of principle. One of the greatest enemies of the Maquis, a group founded to retake occupied planets from the Cardassians, Damar is now leading his own Maquis to retake territory from the powerful adversary who’s annexed it, and his decision will change all of Cardassia. Rewatching the series, I wondered whether my late-season crush on him would color how I felt about him in his early days when he was Dukat’s lackey and Ziyal’s killer, and I found him as despicable as ever, but now it’s hard to watch him without wanting to warn him to stay safe, to stay alive to rebuild Cardassia. (I’ve been watching The 100, the CW’s sometimes cheesy but very female-empowering Earth dystopia, and I feel exactly the same way about Marcus Kane, who started out as a selfish and despicable opponent of the more sympathetic characters, yet has become the kind of leader no one ever expected – and, like Damar, he’s extremely attractive, in part because of his confidence and in because he can admit how wrong he’s been; I am petrified he may suffer the same fate.) It’s fun to watch Weyoun attribute Damar’s new attitude to the belief that with the Breen as allies, the Dominion is sure to win the war, to which Damar replies wryly, “You know me so well.” The Founders make a fatal mistake in underestimating the patriotic fervor of the Cardassians.
So Winn discovers that her guide and lover is the most hated man in the history of Bajor, Does she cry and scream and declare that her life is over? Yes, for about five seconds…after which she kills the loyal aide who has turned on her, unlocks the secrets of the most evil book in the history of Bajor, and goes right back to reinforcing her position as the most powerful woman in the world. This is a woman we’ve seen nearly every character dismiss as either irrelevant or overrated, who got where she is not because she’s the smartest or the kindest, but because she’s worked her butt off scheming to get there. Unlike nearly every female leader in popular culture, she isn’t trying to gain power so she can share it with a lover, pass it on to a family, or be hailed as a celibate figurehead, but because she doesn’t see why it shouldn’t be hers to command. We often see extraordinary girls who become wonder women through the luck of their birth or being in the right place at the right time – two big names in genre who are often hailed as feminists, Joss Whedon and George R.R. Martin, are particularly fond of creating extremely attractive young female characters who fit that mold – whereas Winn is not young, not a svelte martial arts champion, not born to be a slayer, not trained at an academy, not a daughter of kings or lords, not secretly a descendant of…oh, who cares what makes S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Skye the most special snowflake ever. Winn is past the age at which women are so often written off or pushed aside, yet she’s still manipulating everyone around her from Bareil to Shakaar to Kira to Sisko and now to Dukat, diverting blame and accepting credit for other people’s work, raging that the Prophets have no use for someone as utterly self-absorbed as she is. Does it surprise anyone that she’s as willing to use Dukat as he’s been to use her? Winn doesn’t have to pretend anything with him, not even to like him, in order to enlist his help getting the power she’s always craved. If the changing face of evil looks like her own reflection, she doesn’t much care. It’s so refreshing that I find myself cheering for her, even now, knowing that not even the Pah-wraiths give her the fangirling she deserves!