WARNING: "'Til Death Do Us Part" is the episode; 'til spoilers you part is how long you should stick around with this review.
In brief: Dizzying and riveting, with events rushing towards a crescendo; very few false notes.
Brief summary: Worf and Ezri are held captive aboard a Breen vessel, while the Dominion plans a new initiative, Sisko must choose between marriage and obeying the Prophets, and Winn finds herself at a crossroads.
All too often, and especially in the past year and a half, DS9 has had a maddeningly erratic track record when it came to combining multiple stories in one episode. In some cases, such as last year's "Rocks and Shoals," it's worked beautifully; in others, such as last year's finale "Tears of the Prophets," it's wound up feeling needlessly cluttered and scattershot rather than integrated and interesting. Given some of what I saw as filler last week (particularly the Worf/Ezri stuff), then, I had a few qualms about its sequel going in.
Fortunately, I needn't have worried. "'Til Death Do Us Part" isn't quite perfect, but it hits the mark in so many places that I'd be quite happy if the rest of the year runs on this level. "'Til Death Do Us Part" covers a huge amount of ground, involving characters as disparate as Admiral Ross, Kai Winn, and the female Founder, and actually makes sense out of, if not all of it, then certainly very close.
Taking each plot in turn, then, we start with the question of Sisko's marriage. For the most part, the events here aren't all that surprising -- Sisko winds up calling off the marriage, then saying "to hell with the Prophets" (figuratively, of course) and marrying Kasidy anyway. Left unanswered for the moment is why this marriage will lead to "nothing but sorrow," but for now the question is whether the issue was dealt with honestly so far as the characters were concerned.
To that, I'd have to give a slightly-qualified "yes." Sisko, Jake, and Kasidy all felt real in their opinions and their reactions, particularly when Sisko had to break the news to the other two. Jake was the one looking for a loophole and arguing with his father as far as he felt he could, and Kasidy's quiet but forceful "Why?" when told their paths had to be separate said all that needed to be said. The only problem I had with all of this is slight, and more of an omission: one very good reason Sisko might have for obeying the Prophets is that the last time
he went against them, the wormhole was closed and Jadzia was killed. I don't doubt that those events were somewhere in Sisko's mind when he made his decision, but I wish he'd brought them up explicitly, particularly since one could then suggest Kasidy is doomed to a similar fate if they go ahead with the wedding.
A particularly nice offshoot of this "to obey or not to obey?" question came with Kira. Kira's devotion to the Prophets is pretty much legendary at this point -- after all, she is the one who was willing to die if that was her fate ("Children of Time") and who was chosen to be a Prophet's vessel in "The Reckoning." As such, she was an obvious person for Sisko to turn to for support -- but only until Sisko decided to go ahead with the wedding anyway. The Kira/Odo exchanges at the wedding were marvelous; for a change, Odo was the cheerful one happy for the couple (with a tongue-in-cheek "I hope the Prophets forgive them" about their non-Bajoran ceremony), with Kira stuck as the glum one. If something does go wrong as a result of this marriage, Kira may be the first one to say "I told you so" to Sisko -- after all, she did.
The Prophets also came off somewhat better this time. Last time, I found them needlessly personal (despite the connection between "Sarah" and Sisko) and not overly well played; Deborah Lacey seemed more sluggish than detached, which blunted the scene. This episode improved on that in two ways. First, when Sisko explained the situation to Kasidy he actually hypothesized about Sarah's state of mind, which had the unintended consequence of interpreting Lacey's performance for the uninitiated audience. :-) Second, when Sarah showed up at the end of this episode, Lacey's delivery was far more effective; while we still have no idea why the Prophets want this marriage stopped, Sarah seemed almost desperately protective this time around, which changes matters a bit. I'd still like to see more of the "regular" Prophets rather than Sarah in particular, but I'm certainly still curious about what lies ahead.
Meanwhile, on the Breen ship, we were given more of the Worf/Ezri follies. Although this material was still the weakest of the show, it was also a vast improvement over the similar material in "Penumbra," mostly because it muddied the waters. In between speculations about what the Breen are and what they want, we got hints early on (and confirmation later) that this isn't a simple matter of pairing two characters up. Instead, the situation seems to be more what other people predicted after "Penumbra," namely that Ezri was conflicted with all of her lives and Worf was in the right place at the right time. Obviously, Worf doesn't quite see it that way, but romantically he's always been one to lead with his chin. I don't know if the "she really has feelings for Julian" angle sits much better with me (mostly because I don't understand why Ezri's primary function needs to be that of a love interest), but if nothing else, some added texturing and vastly improved dialogue was a help here.
On Cardassia, we got a further confirmation that All Is Not Well [TM] in the head of Damar; his drinking has been hovering in the background all season, but we're finally starting to see it as emblematic as something more than just the pressures of command. Based on Damar's conversation with Dukat, I get the sense that Damar thinks he's leading Cardassia down the wrong path; he'd like nothing better than for Dukat to come and reclaim his rightful place at the head of the Cardassian regime. He's chafed at Weyoun's authority time and time again, but after Dukat's heart-to-heart I'm wondering if we're going to see Damar take Cardassia out of the alliance altogether.
That suspicion was heightened, to be sure, with the revelation at the end of a new alliance between the Dominion and the Breen. (Said revelation also brought in the Worf/Ezri plot, so that it won't seem so much like marking time from here on in.) Based on very little apart from Dukat's attitude back in "Indiscretion" and elements of the preview, I get the sense that there's some old and bad blood between Cardassians and the Breen -- as such, Damar is not going to be happy at this new ally. (Even if there isn't any bad past history, Damar can't be happy at having to share the limelight with another Alpha Quadrant race.) There's some interesting material here.
On the negative side, however, the Breen's only real appeal so far is in their cloak of mystery. (Well, that and a nice musical sting by David Bell whenever they appear.) I said last week that I'd be a little irked if they turned out to be major players at the last minute, and so far that seems to be exactly what has happened. Additional questions like "what do they look like under their helmets?" and "why have no ships ever returned from Breen space?" aren't adding much, and in fact almost seem a little silly -- in particular, the fact that those exact same questions were a mainstay of "Babylon 5"'s Vorlons for two years makes this one seem no more than imitative. I'm still curious about the Breen, but we know so little about them that Weyoun's smug "changes everything, doesn't it?" falls flat; we don't know enough about them to know how much anything will change.
The absolute showpiece of the episode, however, came with the appearance of Kai Winn. At first, she seems in her usual role: in the guise of being helpful, she's trying to manipulate and judge Sisko slightly in his role as Emissary. Scant minutes into the show, however, Winn has her "Prophet-flash," and in that minute everything changes.
(I'll put in an additional warning here about spoilers, as this part is something viewers should really be surprised by.)
When the Prophets appear and tell Winn that "the Sisko has faltered," adding that only she can bring about Bajor's restoration, I suddenly took a very active interest. Admittedly, my gut reaction was "this isn't the Prophets; it's the Pagh Wraiths trying to deceive her," but the fact that I happened to be right didn't ruin anything. Winn was more than ready to believe it was the Prophets showing her a destiny, and her reactions were what mattered. (I didn't at the time realize that the "guide" sent to help Winn on her path would turn out to be Dukat, but hit that conclusion about five seconds before the two actually met.)
It's interesting to compare what certainly looks like "Winn's fall" to Dukat's fall in "Sacrifice of Angels." In Dukat's case, he lost everything because of pride. If one thinks about the usual listing of the Seven Deadly Sins, pride is the runaway winner. Second, however, is envy, and that seems to be a large part of Winn's character. Winn has never been happy to have a non-Bajoran in the role of Emissary (with one exception, which I'll mention in a bit), and her resentment at never hearing the Prophets directly sang through loud and clear in her initial conversation with Sisko. Her deep belief that she should be the one the Prophets speak to is blinding her to what others might see, and that belief is going to wind up leading her down a very dark road. Pretty heady stuff.
(The exception, by the way, is "Rapture," and my one deep regret about this Winn/Dukat plotline is that "Rapture" appears to have been forgotten entirely. Alas.)
When Dukat began disguising himself as a Bajoran last episode, I wondered how he was going to keep people from recognizing his voice; after all, if you've been the bugaboo used to frighten Bajoran children for so long, both during the Occupation and more recently, images of you are going to stick in people's minds. Even given the usual caveat that we know Dukat's disguising himself and the characters don't, I wondered how he'd avoid giving himself away.
Fortunately, even the idea of no one recognizing Dukat has been made fairly plausible, and I think a lot of the credit for that has to go to Marc Alaimo. When disguised as "Anjol" the farmer, Alaimo (and thus Dukat) carries himself entirely differently, both in voice and in body. Dukat has never, even for a moment, sounded particularly humble -- Anjol, at least for the first several times we see him, rarely comes off as anything else. By playing on his own humility and building up Winn, Dukat manages to bewitch Winn like a master; hell, were I in her shoes I might have fallen for it too. Dukat/Anjol's seduction of Winn (both figurative and, apparently, literal) was absolutely the best material of an already solid show, and I'm eager to see where this one's going to go next.
(In particular, we still don't know exactly what Dukat's plan is for Winn. It seems clear that they're leading up to some kind of attack on Sisko, but whether that attack is physical, political, or spiritual is very much up in the air.)
-- One slip Dukat made: the only time "Anjol" sounded fairly Dukat-like was during his story about surviving the Occupation. I think mentioning Dukat by name may turn out to be a mistake.
-- Between Winn and Damar, this was very much an episode of "The Disheveled Antagonists." :-)
-- I'm not sure I buy into the story that no one knows what a Breen looks like underneath the helmet. For one thing, I imagine the Jem'Hadar might have checked at some point while they had one imprisoned -- but more importantly, if I'm remembering correctly, at least one of Dukat and Kira disguised themselves as Breen while rescuing the Bajoran prisoners in "Indiscretion." I would assume that they got said disguises by taking them off stunned or killed Breen, which would make seeing them a foregone conclusion. This felt like unnecessary mystery; sure, we don't know what they look like, but that should be enough.
-- Wouldn't it be interesting if Winn's message really were from the Prophets, who knew full well what Dukat was planning and decided it was a neat idea?
-- Two thoughts about the "delirious musings" both Worf and Ezri went through. First, one wonders why all of Ezri's were only of Ezri Dax and not any other hosts (not to mention all from events this season). Second, while Worf's "I will not dishonor her memory!" is presumably meant to refer to Jadzia, one wonders if it could have applied equally well to K'Ehleyr.
-- The lighting on Damar in his quarters was magnificent.
-- Last week, Sisko told Kasidy, "You're not answering my question." This week it was Kasidy's turn.
-- The only other time we've had even a hint of romantic leanings on Winn's part was in the "Homecoming/Circle/Siege" trilogy back in season 2, with Minister Jaro. Given that a Bajoran Marc Alaimo actually resembles a Bajoran Frank Langella a fair bit, I guess that's just the sort of face she goes for. :-)
-- I think the text of Admiral Ross's wedding speech was awfully close to the one Kirk and Picard used in respective weddings they ran. I'd imagine there's a standard Starfleet text.
-- Speaking of the wedding, what was up with Jake's jacket? The man looked like a used runabout salesman...
-- I guess grabbing someone's ear and reading their pagh doesn't help you figure out whether they're really Bajoran or not.
I think, at long last, that that finally wraps things up. (Hey, it was a dense episode; there was lots to talk about!) Little bits of "'Til Death Do Us Part" rankled slightly, but the overall sense of the episode was quite strong; as I said earlier, if the remainder of the series is on this level I'll have no complaints.
So, wrapping up:
Writing: Some minor Worf/Ezri issues and continuing avoidance of Winn's work in "Rapture," but far outweighed by things like Dukat/Winn.
Directing: It's not easy to keep everything moving through this many stories without getting the audience tired or confused; Kolbe did it without a fuss.
Acting: No real complaints.
OVERALL: 9. Nice job, folks; let's hope it continues.
Alliances most foul.
"If I told my neighbors I was having tea with the Kai, they'd never believe me."