WARNING: The below article contains spoilers for DS9's "Homefront". Stay alert.
In brief: Once the show gets to Earth, it never looks back. Let's hope part two can be as gripping.
Brief summary: Evidence of Changeling infiltration sends Sisko and Odo to Earth, where he must balance planetary security against Federation liberty.
Now this strikes me as a particularly interesting use of the Dominion and of the Founders. I could care less about whether the Dominion actually has an all-out attack planned; what's interesting here is how Sisko and the rest of Starfleet is dealing with the possibility. The question of exactly how much freedom Earth can, or
should, give up for the sake of defending their home is a very powerful one when looked at under the right circumstances, and I found it pretty compelling in "Homefront".
I wasn't nearly as impressed with the early part of the episode, before Sisko and Odo leave for Earth. While the actual briefing was nicely moody and many of the ideas were workable, the execution felt off. In particular, O'Brien's and Bashir's "Battle of Britain" aftermath with Quark felt totally wrong -- partly because I still expected some aftermath to "Hippocratic Oath" and never got it, but primarily because the scene was back in the "Quark makes everyone cringe, especially the viewer" style that we've seen way too often. The Dax/Odo "furniture movers" concept was a mixed case; I like the idea of Dax as a practical joker, particularly on a level so subtle that no one but the target will get it, but the dialogue surrounding it just didn't work for me. The only isolated exchanges on the station that did work completely for me were both involving the wormhole -- first, there was the question of whether the Prophets would recognize Sisko with the beard, and then especially the Kira/Worf discussion of gods. Worf's "our gods are dead [...] they were more trouble than they were worth" ranks among the best speeches he's had since joining DS9, I think.
Once the preliminaries were taken care of, however (and everyone but Brooks, Lofton, and Auberjonois got their token scenes :-) ), the show really took off. The abruptness of Sisko's promotion to head of Starfleet Security not only was an intelligent move on Starfleet's part (which seems rare for the top brass these days), but also served to put us in Sisko's shoes for a while, as he was as surprised by it as we were. That move, combined with Commander Benteen's hastily added "that you know of" to Leyton's remark that Odo was the first Changeling he'd ever met, served to give us a feeling that for once, Starfleet had matters well in hand.
The rest of the episode served to undermine that feeling at every turn. Sisko manages to convince President Jaresh-Inyo to tighten security (using, as Jaresh-Inyo understatedly put it, a "very effective entrance" by Odo)? Well, only within certain limits -- which clearly are not good enough. Sisko gets everything put in place at Starfleet Headquarters? In strolls a Changeling masquerading as Admiral Leyton, caught only by Odo's keen sense of hostility. Sisko introduces blood screenings for Starfleet officers and their families? His own father objects strenuously, putting the program at risk, and also suggests a way that a "really smart" shape-shifter could beat the very test Sisko was relying on. The middle section of the show had to get across the feeling that no matter what Sisko and Starfleet did, it wouldn't matter -- and that sense of futility became very powerful
Sisko's father Joseph, in addition to serving as either a voice of reason or of frustration (depending on who has your sympathies), was also just a treat to watch. He has a slightly overly dramatic sense of delivery -- but having seen Brock Peters elsewhere, I think that's a trait of the character and not of the actor. (It certainly fits well with Sisko; listening to the two of them was very much a "dueling pregnant pauses" at times. :-) ) Joseph Sisko seems very much like any number of people I know who've had a very full life and have no intention of stopping now, regardless of what anyone thinks (despite his claim that he is "too old to work two jobs!") -- and his argument with his son when security arrives to take a blood screening encapsulized the entire question of the show: is safety worth losing certain freedoms -- and if so, how many and which ones? Ben Franklin's old adage (at least, I think it is) that "those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither" was very much in mind for the latter part of "Homefront", and the use of Joseph Sisko personalized that conflict extremely well.
The only interruptions in the last forty minutes or so of the show came from Nog, and I've fairly mixed feelings about them. On the one hand, it certainly makes sense for us to see Nog given that they're on Earth, and many of his problems and attempted solutions are also credible. On the other hand ... well, it's Nog, and he's just out of place in a show trying to get as affecting and as "deep" as this one tried to. This particular subplot might be salvageable if "Paradise Lost" does something neat with it -- in particular, it would be worth pointing out that Sisko, despite having "the weight of the world on his shoulders", is still taking the time to consider individuals, as that bears on the main point of the show -- but I fear it's just going to be fluff.
Much of "Homefront", then, was basically setup -- but as a setup, it raised a lot of extremely interesting questions, and I hope "Paradise Lost" does as good a job of resolving them as "Homefront" did of introducing them. During Sisko's speech in "The Maquis, Part II" two years ago about "it's easy to be a saint in Paradise", I never dreamed we'd face the issues of Earth as Paradise this head-on, and it's nice to see.
So, some smaller points:
-- The uncomfortable feeling of the episode was somewhat stronger for those who watch both DS9 and "Babylon 5", I think. Robert Foxworth, who played Admiral Leyton here (quite well), is playing a recurring role on B5 (General Hague) that also deals with defending Earth -- and one that also puts him at odds with the President. As such, I kept hearing General Hague's lines in my head while Leyton was speaking, which was a decidedly eerie feeling.
-- Also from the "hey, she looks familiar!" file was Susan Gibney, who played Leyton's aide. Sharp-eyed TNG watchers will probably remember her as Dr. Leah Brahms, co-designer of the Enterprise and occasional holodeck fantasy of Geordi's.
-- Despite the fact that I wasn't enchanted with the "Battle of Britain" scene of Bashir and O'Brien in Quark's, I have to say that both actors had a great deal of fun with it, Colm Meaney in particular.
-- The question of time: I found the statement that there hasn't been a state of planetary emergency declared in a century (aside from the Borg) an interesting one. Assuming that Jaresh-Inyo was speaking loosely, I'd imagine he meant the incident with the Probe in "Star Trek IV" -- given that there was a distress signal sent out, there must have been a planetary emergency declared at the time. That's close to a century ago. (If ST4 wasn't one, then the next best option would be V'Ger's attack in the first film, which would be even closer to a
-- I'm still not entirely certain how every power system on the planet got knocked out simultaneously; given how many areas must be on independent power, that strikes me as next to impossible to manage. Given that it's mostly a means to an end dramatically, I'm not particularly concerned ... but I am puzzled.
-- "Give us the authority we need, Mr. President, and we will take care of the rest." Warning bells are going off here...
That should about cover it. "Homefront" had a few too many little problems for me to feel comfortable giving it a 10, but it was quite good overall, and well worth a look. I hope "Paradise Lost" doesn't drop the ball here; we'll know soon enough.
So, wrapping up:
Writing: The Nog stuff felt a bit forced, but the main ideas of the episode were set up and delivered quite well indeed.
Directing: From the slight unreal feel of the faux-Leyton's conversation with Odo, to the tight close-ups on both Siskos during their primary argument ... this one's a keeper.
Acting: No complaints. Brooks, Lofton and Auberjonois were all quite good, and every guest star down the line was effective.
OVERALL: A 9, I think. Nice piece of work.
"Paradise Lost" -- 'nuff said.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Benjamin Lafayette Sisko -- what the hell has gotten into your head?"
-- Joseph Sisko