“Favor The Bold” (season 6, episode 5; originally aired 10/27/1997)
“Sacrifice Of Angels”(season 6, episode 6; originally aired 11/3/1997)
In which Sisko wants to come home...
Roughly two-thirds of the way through “Sacrifice Of Angels,” there’s a perfect moment of utter despair. Throughout both episodes of this week’s two-parter, the stakes have been very stark, and very clear. The war is going badly for the Federation, and the good guys need a win, so Sisko comes up with a plan to retake Deep Space 9. It’s a bold strategy, and one which involves a considerable amount of risk; not just for the forces engaged in the battle itself, but for territories outside the fight who will be left unprotected. Like, say, Earth. But Sisko’s plan makes sense, because his former home is of vital importance if the Federation wants any hope of winning the Dominion War. The wormhole is the key, and if Dukat and his men are able to disable Rom’s self-replicating mine-field, the Gamma Quadrant can start sending in reinforcements, and an already lopsided conflict will turn into a rout. But if Sisko’s plan works, and they can take back the station, the Federation can protect the mines, and get a much needed boost in position and morale.
The fight for DS9 is the main focus of the two-parter, with “Favor The Bold” setting the stage for the conflict, and “Sacrifice Of Angels” delivering the goods. And the goods are damn impressive; I’m not the best of judge of these things, but I’d say the space battle that takes up much of “Sacrifice Of Angels” is one of the biggest, and best, space battles in the history of the franchise. Sure, it’s a lot of CGI ships swooping around each other in a CGI environment, and it lacks the kineticism and budget of a big screen movie, but it’s still thrilling to watch. Partly because it’s well designed (for once we actually get a sense of just how big these fights can be), and partly because even in the heat of the battle, the narrative is well-defined. Sisko (with an assist from Garak, as Nog stands in for those of us in the audience who aren’t big on tactics) tries to draw out the Cardassians to create a hole for the Defiant and other ships to break through, and Dukat, recognizing Sisko’s ploy, thinks he can pretend to fall for the “trap,” and then turn it back around. It’s not the most complicated strategy, but for a forty minute show that has a number of other subplots it needs to get to, this gets the job done. We know what’s going on, so it’s that much easier to get excited about it.
But I was talking about despair, wasn’t I? Well, much of the suspense of the two-parter hinges on Damar’s plan to destroy the mine-field. There’s a lot of messing about and some near misses and reversals, but Kira and Rom finally make it to the central computer, and Rom tries to—well, it’s scientific, but he’s trying to turn off the system. When he can’t manage that quickly enough, Kira tells him to just turn off the station’s weapons instead; it’s more of a temporary solution, but at least that means that even if Damar successfully manages to prevent the mines from self-replicating, he won’t be able to destroy the ones that currently exist. (Really, any sabotage Kira and Rom cook up is going to be a temporary one, given that Damar’s plan is fundamentally sound.) Rom turns off the weapons—but it’s too late. Dukat has given the order, and the mine-field is destroyed, just as the Defiant, the sole ship to make it through the Dominion lines, arrives at the station.
Admittedly, Deep Space Nine has never shied away from playing hardball, but the way the episode is structured, and the way everything in the sixth season has been building, Rom’s failed attempt to save the mines at the last second is a striking moment of despair. The Federation is losing the war, and has been for a while, but that makes sense, structurally speaking; while a multi-civilization conglomerate with near-infinite resources wouldn’t seem to be a great candidate for underdog status, the first part of this season did a reasonable job establishing just how out-classed our heroes are. The Dominion has been conquering other races for a very long time, while the Federation focuses its efforts on peaceful negotiation. That makes them easier to root for (even when they are a bit stiff), but it puts them at a serious disadvantage against an enemy with genetically engineered soldiers and negotiators. (Okay, the soldiers are probably the important part there.) So, there’s a Goliath, and a David, and we know which side we’re one, and then David comes up with one hell of a slingshot plan. Meanwhile, the, um, other Davids—okay, the metaphor falls apart at this point, but Kira, Rom, Odo, and the others are also engaged in some serious underdogging. By all accounts, Quark’s decision to rescue his brother (with Ziyal’s help), and Odo finally turning his back on the Female Changeling, should’ve sealed the deal; the character arcs were finished, and while the conflict came down to the wire, the heroes still saved the day.
Except they didn’t. It’s a great, shocking moment; not as sad as Ziyal’s death, but arguably more dramatically impactful because it’s been so carefully and thoroughly built to. The writers patiently walked us into a room and then took away the floor. Even the small touches help; before the mine-field is destroyed, Weyoun and Dukat are talking (and they get some great scenes in both episodes), and Weyoun decides that the best way to defeate the Federation will be to eradicate the population of Earth. We already heard in the previous episode that Sisko’s big play is going to leave Earth vulnerable, and to hear Weyoun casually discussing wiping out the entire population just to prevent the possibility of rebellion, means that when the minefield goes down, we are very aware that our heroes aren’t the only ones in the line of fire. Sisko’s plan has failed, but there’s no sense of blame, especially considering that he and Admiral Ross had received intel (a message from Kira sent through Morn)(Morn!) that the mine field was going down. He’d had no choice, and they’d done their best. Hell, the Klingons even made a last minute appearance, like you knew they would. But it was all for naught. The mines are gone, and the full force of the Dominion is on its way.
What Sisko does next isn’t exactly surprising; nor is it a shock when the Federation doesn’t ultimately lose the fight. But before we get there, it’s worth going back and picking out the threads underline the two-parter, the less exciting bits which nonetheless lend the action sequences the depth they need to succeed. As exciting as Sisko’s plan is, and as great as it is to see the whole team (minus Kira and Odo) working together on the Defiant, “Favor The Bold” and “Sacrifice Of Angels” get most of their mileage from events on the station. It’s neat; it only lasts for a few episodes, if that, but Kira, Odo, Quark, Rom, Weyoun and especially Dukat become the central ensemble, as though the station itself were the show’s real main character, and most of our attention is focused on whoever is living inside. Kira’s crisis is clear, and her scenes are pretty straightforward. Once she decided to give up on appeasement and return to her revolutionary roots, her emotional conflict was largely resolved. There was anger over Odo’s betrayal, but she moves in a straight line, and as thrilling as events are, she’s in a good place to deal with them.
The situation with Odo is more unstable, although the two-parter sees it resolved, at least for the moment. Maybe the biggest stunner here is the revelation that Odo and the Female Changeling have actual, physical intercourse, most likely because the Female Changeling was curious, and because she wanted to establish one hold on his soul. The idea of two shapeshifters fucking like us normal solids is weirdly disturbing, like if Silly Putty made porn, but it’s the right choice to make, creatively. We know Odo can have sex, because he’s had sex before, and that means there’s no reason the Female Changeling couldn’t have sex. Mimicking the behavior of solids serves to underscore just how different the world the Female Changeling offers is from what Odo has always known. The appeal is obvious—few of us are as outcast from our environments as Odo is, but it’s hard to imagine anyone refusing a chance to go someplace where everyone understands and welcomes you; where you can just close your eyes and belong. Sure, Odo can have sex, but it’s not the same natural physical need that drives us, and sharing it with the Female Changeling is only a reminder of the artificiality of the act.
It’s also a reminder of just how little the Female Changeling understands and cares about the needs of solids. Most of her screen-time is spent with Odo, and with him, she strikes a caring, slightly condescending tone; a teacher trying to impart an important lesson to a wayward, but highly valued, pupil. But her brief scenes with Weyoun and Dukat show someone colder, and more disdainful. She’s rarely openly contemptuous, because in her eyes, there’s no need to be. The solids are barely worth of notice, let alone disdain. She talks of “breaking” them the way you might break a horse. But she’s capable of intense emotion, which we see when Weyoun dares ask her why she expends so much energy on Odo. To her, and presumably to the rest of her race, bringing Odo back to Great Link is more important than the entirety of the Alpha Quadrant. In addition to clarifying her presence on the station, that reveal also serves as a reminder of just how untouched the Founders are by all of this. Our heroes are fighting for their lives; the Female Changeling is engaged in seduction, and she has all the time in the world.
Which might be why she subtly pushes Odo into betraying her. Maybe the Female Changeling realized that there was no way she could talk Odo out of being in love, and instead decided to let the situation play out, only to pick up the pieces later on when the inevitable (to her mind) occurs. Or it could just be that she doesn’t realize the depth of his devotion to Kira. Either way, her decision to have Kira executed (one of the nicer touches here is that after Rom’s arrest, no one in the high command has any doubt as to the rest of the conspirators, although it takes them time to move on this knowledge) forces the constable to take action. While it’s great to see him rushing to save the day with the rest of the Bajoran security force, the plot resolves a little too quickly for my taste. The triumphant return to the station that marks the end of the episode is also somewhat abrupt (a few more episodes of Sisko trying to get back home might’ve been nice, although it’s not hard to see the stories running out), but it’s earned. Odo first succumbing to the dark side and then turning his back on it is disappointingly muted, especially seeing how so much of his decision rests on his love for Kira. There’s complexity here if you work at it, but the writers seem comfortable with just settling on easy answers.
We have a better sense of Weyoun now, and he’s yet another favorite secondary character to add to the pile. The most unexpected reveal: the Vorta have no sense of aesthetics whatsoever, because the Founders didn’t bother to give them any when the race was genetically engineered. Weyoun’s wistful, “Though sometimes, I think it would be nice to be able to carry a tune” is really the most sympathetic the character has ever been; as slimy as the Vorta can be, there just as much prisoners of circumstance as the Jem’Hadar. The difference is that their obsequiousness is engrained, and not controlled by drugs, probably because it would be hard to design an effective warrior that didn’t have a bit of an edge to him. The Founders don’t have allies, just tools, which is something Dukat and the Cardassians might want to remember.
Speaking of Dukat, the Gul is one of the lead figures in the episodes, as we follow his transition from conquering hero (in his eyes) to maddened, grief-stricken fool. Marc Alaimo delivers one of his best performances yet, and it’s impressive how subtlety the two-parter lays in arc of his tragedy. In “Favor The Bold,” he and Ziyal fight over Rom’s captivity and scheduled execution; their father/daughter interactions are one of the more fascinating relationships on a show full of fascinating relationships, because both characters legitimately care about it each other, but their personalities are fundamentally incompatible. I suppose in theory, Ziyal’s fundamental decency and compassion could’ve slowly worked to warp her father’s will, but Dukat’s worldview bends in all the wrong ways. He doesn’t listen to her, or even really respect her; he indulges her. And yet his love is entirely sincere. The Gul is a fantastic villain, because he’s so complex that he’s not really a villain at all—just a character, who is also a monster. Talking with Weyoun, he tries to convince the Vorta that killing your enemy isn’t the right approach. “A true victory,” he says, “is to make your enemy see they were wrong to oppose you in the first place.” His entire philosophy is based on an unwavering conviction of his own righteousness. It’s not “Might Makes Right.” It’s Might Is Right, but only if he’s the one wielding the fist.
And then everything falls apart. That moment of despair I mentioned is Dukat’s last moment of pure victory; the final few minutes of believing he’d finally, and utterly, won. Then Sisko disappears into the wormhole and when he comes back, everything goes to shit. The sight of Dukat racing through the station as the Cardassian and Dominion forces evacuate is nifty visual of how fast the tide can change, and his final scene with Ziyal is, if not exactly heartbreaking, intense and unsettling. Dukat demands Ziyal come with him, she refuses and explains that she helped Kira and the others. So now Dukat has nothing, but even that’s not far down enough, so Damar shows up and, having heard Ziyal’s confession, decides the best course of action is to kill the boss’s daughter. It’s not a hugely devastating moment; Ziyal was nice and likable, but not exactly essential. But Alaimo’s reaction sells it. Even if he didn’t have his daughter with him, he still had her love—but now she’s dead, and he has nothing. He offers forgiveness, as though that would change anything.
It’s good that there’s some cost for all of this, because otherwise, the intervention by the Wormhole Aliens would be a little too convenient a resolution. Oh, there’s a suggestion that Sisko will have to pay more later on, given that the Prophets basically say (in their particular idiom) that the captain is not going to be “of Bajor” as he so clearly wishes to be. This connects to the scene in the previous episode when Sisko tries to sell Admiral Ross on Bajor’s beauty, before talking about how he plans to build a home on the planet someday; clearly, by deciding to help in this conflict, the aliens have made some other decisions as well, which will involve some kind of painful dramatic irony down the line. But there’s no follow through for that yet. The Defiant enters the wormhole with Sisko having every intention of making it a suicide mission (thus fulfilling the prophecy O’Brien and Bashir made when they started quoting from “The Charge Of The Light Brigade” at the start of the battle; maybe pick something more cheerful next time, guys?); the aliens snag Sisko and argue with him a bit about his plans; he yells at them; they make a decision; and the next thing we know, the Dominion fleet has disappeared.
As climaxes go, it’s an odd choice, even if it is something that’s practically built into the series’ DNA. As soon as Sisko heads the ship towards the wormhole, it’s obvious what the resolution was going to be, and surely on some level he must have hoped that the Prophets might contact him. He had been reading all those ancient text after all. But dramatically speaking, it can’t help but feel like a cheat, even though it does take a few minutes for the aliens to decide to intervene. The rest of the two parter is strong enough that this isn’t a huge issue, and, again, it’s not like the aliens hadn’t been a presence on the show before. And maybe a big exciting victory wasn’t really the point. When Sisko and the others arrive back on the station, there’s a lot of cheering and hugging, but that doesn’t change the fact that Ziyal is dead in the infirmary, and that Garak will never get to find out why she loved him. The season was structured to build to this moment, to restore order to the show and get everyone back where they belong. The underdog one, and Goliath is dead, or at least temporarily stunned. But there’s always a cost. That moment of despair forced Sisko to make a deal he still doesn’t know the consequences of, and as Ziyal could've told him, on this show, there are always consequences.
- Quark’s big hero moment was terrific; first the fake-out with the souffle, then holding the two Jem’Hadar guards at bay with twin phasers. (I was just starting to wonder how long he could really expect to keep the soldiers off him when he shot them both.)
- The next episode looks to be about Worf and Dax’s wedding, which, ugh, but if I can make a polite request: I want more O’Brien and Bashir. Both have been shortchanged so far, although it was cute how quickly they got back to their holosuites routine. (Although, I dunno, wouldn’t you want to rest for a bit after being in an actual battle?)
- He doesn’t get a lot to do this week, but Martok really is a delight.
- Well, we know now who Damar is; and now I understand why everyone was amused when I didn’t pay attention to him in his first episode. It’s great how even someone as unlikable as Dukat’s second in command has understandable, and even kind of relatable, reasons for why he does what he does. He’s another of those true believer types; Ziyal’s refusal to live up to Dukat’s expectations is an insult to everything he holds dear.
- “A penance must be exacted,” is the phrase the Prophets use. Dun dun dunnnnn.
- Nog is an ensign now! I love his relationship with O’Brien; the writers have done a very good job of toning the character down without losing his essential Nog-ness.
- “The Link… was paradise. But it appears I’m not ready for paradise.” It’s comments like this that make me worry about you, Odo.
- “I forgive you too,” Dukat says, and hands Sisko his baseball. Um. Yay?
Next week: We're going to drop this section. Next week, we’ll do the next two episodes like we always do.