WARNING: The "Image in the Sand" you see before you is that of looming spoilers just ahead for DS9's season premiere.

In brief: A lot of stage-setting: some good, some disappointingly trite.

Brief summary: Sisko finds new information about his past, leading him on a quest to find the Prophets.

Whew. It's about time I finally saw "Image in the Sand". Between a shift in timeslot and contractual disputes, KCOP didn't get around to showing the premiere until fully two weeks after the episode went out over satellite. Thus, I imagine a lot of opinions have already been pretty well formed and a lot of issues have already been discussed. Since I managed to avoid all of them, however, I'm just going to continue on as if no one else has seen the episode but me. So there. :-)

"Image in the Sand" had several goals to accomplish. Like "A Time to Stand" before it last season, it needed to get viewers up to speed on any between-season changes (like Kira's new hairstyle, new uniform, new rank, Dax's departure, and so on), as well as set the stage for future episodes (possibly resolving some issues in the meantime), and to provide an entertaining story in the bargain.

"Image in the Sand" went a little over two for three; unfortunately, I think the one it missed was to provide an entertaining story. While the episode has left me quite curious about "Shadows and Symbols" next week, I was only intrigued by this episode itself on sporadic occasions. In many ways, this episode suffered from the same let's-do-everything-but-little-of-it-well quality that so hurt "Tears of the Prophets" at the end of last season.

For starters, there's the continuing odd sense that even with all the issues waiting to be addressed, there's always room for filler. Not only did we get the standard season-premiere "last time on Deep Space Nine" recap, which is expected, but there was yet another musical interlude with someone's favorite hologram, Vic Fontaine. Just as in "Tears of the Prophets", it really ground the episode to a halt: given that the only thing really happening in the scene was that Worf brooded, then trashed the holosuite, and that we saw the effects of that later anyway, there was really no reason we couldn't have just jumped to the aftermath. I'm sorry, but I've seen Worf brooding before -- and as adept as Michael Dorn is in the right circumstances, he's not adept enough to make a brooding Worf interesting enough to come back to time after time. So, as in "Tears of the Prophets", I wound up feeling a bit as though my time was being wasted.

The later material, where we find out what's really bugging Worf (namely, that he hasn't yet been able to win a battle dangerous enough to get Jadzia into Sto'Vo'Kor), is a bit stronger, for several reasons. First, it provides a dimension to Worf's suffering that, while entirely consistent with Klingon culture, isn't so mind-numbingly obvious as to make tedious viewing. Second, it gave Colm Meaney a chance to get a few good scenes in, and that always helps. In particular, his response to "why not ask Admiral Ross?" was marvelous: "Oh, yeah, I can see it now. Um, Admiral? Could you please send the Defiant on the most dangerous mission you can think of? Jadzia needs to get into Sto'Vo'Kor." O'Brien has a marvelous way of cutting to the heart of a situation, and that's exactly what was needed here. So, as stage-setting for Worf's Dangerous Mission [TM] next week, this half of the setup worked fine.

Another bit of stage-setting during the episode involved Kira and the newly arrived Romulan Senator Creetak. This is a situation where I'm frankly still pretty much on the fence: while the idea of the Romulans being duplicitous is certainly workable, and Kira going up against a Romulan fleet to safeguard her home is juicy enough, part of me almost thinks it would've been much more interesting to let Creetak actually be legit. The idea of a semi-permanent Romulan presence on DS9 a la the Klingons and Martok is one that can be mined for any number of interesting situations, and it would be nice to see a case where Kira's automatic suspicion and distrust actually don't pan out, as it would present her with an entirely new set of challenges. The reason I'm still on the fence here, then, is that think there's still an outside chance that we may get exactly that. At a minimum, we may see Kira fighting a battle which Starfleet looks down upon, and that has some interesting potential as well.

When it comes down to it, I thought the Kira/Creetak work was all a bit too pat. Kira starts out distrustful, and then Creetak comes on board and seems to be entirely too civilized. There's no friction, no strife ... naturally, that means something has to go wrong quickly, most likely in the form of Kira's suspicions proving correct after all. Is there anyone who didn't see that coming about halfway through the episode, particularly after the request for the hospital? As Weyoun observed, Romulans can be "predictably treacherous" -- but when the emphasis is on the predictable rather than the treacherous, it's not an overly good sign.

Speaking of signs, that leads us to the third and perhaps most crucial leg of the episode, Sisko's visions and his subsequent search for the Prophets. While the vision itself is fine, I was a bit struck by its directness, particularly in location: I'm not sure we've seen a vision before that, in effect, said "Go to this place." I don't have a problem with it; I just think it's an interesting shift of focus for the Prophets.

What I do have a problem with, in a big way, is the big revelation about Sisko's mother -- namely, that the person Sisko always thought was his mother really wasn't. I could launch into all the usual complaints about something like that -- it's trite, it's soap-operaish, and so forth -- but they don't get at what I really see as the big problem with it: namely, that it carried no emotional weight at all. Think about it: how many times has Sisko even mentioned his mother in the last six years? Offhand, I think she's gotten about two minutes of discussion at most in the last six seasons. As such, the fact that his mother is someone completely different is ... well, it's just not interesting. It's a revelation that cost us nothing to learn, and as such is one that leaves no wallop afterwards except the sensation of "ah, here's the plot device." Based on Sisko's reaction, that's not what we were supposed to come away feeling. (Compare this to the classic film-SF example of this revelation working: Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Given the frequent mention of Luke's father and the worship Luke always felt for him, that revelation really did pack a wallop, to us as well as him. This one, by comparison, didn't even leave a mark.)

What's more, there's a very real possibility that Sisko's mother is now going to figure into the quest for the Prophets in a lot of ways. My wife Lisa has already made her own prediction about how all of it is going to resolve itself, and has made me promise to kill her if she turns out to be right. :-) I don't plan on going that far, but given this particular revelation and the subsequent hints we've gotten about her connection with Bajor, there are far more schlocky ways to resolve this than there are non-schlocky ways, and I'm frankly worried. (For those interested, I'll put her prediction down in the "short comments" section.)

I do appreciate other elements of the Sisko story, however, especially the hints about some of the later challenges he may wind up facing. In particular, the idea of a cult on Bajor supporting the Pah-wraiths makes a great deal of sense to me: as Odo observed, during hard times some people get a lot of emotional support out of hate and fear. (And some politicians use those appeals all the time regardless ... but that's another story entirely.) Given their interests, and the interests of the wraiths themselves, Sisko may have more trials ahead of him than the purely emotional ones -- and depending on how well they're handled, those trials could be very interesting. (As those who read my review of "The Sword of Kahless" can recall, I'm a sucker for quest stories, so I'm hoping for something relatively epic here.) Given that Jake is coming along, I'm also hopeful that he may finally get to figure into things more heavily; considering how he was virtually dropped from the story during the opening arc last season, that hope may be unfounded, but I've got to be optimistic somewhere.

And, of course, there's the arrival of Ensign Ezri Dax (Nicole deBoer). Given her brief appearance this episode, there's not much to say so far except "gosh, she's cute." :-) I assume we'll find out a bit more about her in the next few episodes; we'd better.

Various shorter points:

-- The effects seemed to be a bit off this week. When Martok entered the holosuite to fight Worf, it looked incredibly fake, and at least one battle sequence during the preview seemed similarly shallow. I'm hoping this isn't an omen.

-- I'll go on record right now as being none too fond of Kira's new 'do or her new uniform; the latter in particular tends to bug me. When left to her own devices, Nana Visitor (and thus Kira) is a marvelously striking woman -- but moving her waistline up to the middle of her rib cage is NOT the way to take advantage of that.

-- Unlike last year, however, I'm not at all bugged by the three-month gap between "Tears of the Prophets" and "Image in the Sand". Last year, lots of things happened within those three months that we were just meant to assume; this year, though, the overriding sense was that we'd had three months of virtual stalemate, with everyone feeling frustrated and waiting for something to happen. ("It was as if the universe were holding its breath," to quote another show.) In that context, a jump of a few months works admirably.

-- Damar and Weyoun really did very little for me this time around: apart from a little bit of cackling about their current situation, there was almost no substance to their conversation at all. (And with all due respect to Casey Biggs, Damar and Weyoun just don't quite have the same spark that Dukat and Weyoun always did.) Here's hoping that changes. (Bringing Dukat into the action would certainly help, but I gather that's not in the cards for a while.)

-- Until I saw the credit for the Bajoran cultist who threatens Sisko (Johnny Moran, for the record), I was dead certain it was Aron Eisenberg. The resemblance both facially and vocally is just uncanny.

-- Oh, Lisa's prediction? It goes something like this: Sara didn't really die in Australia when Ben was 4. She was taken away -- possibly by the Prophets to guard the Orb of the Emissary, possibly by the Pah-wraiths to prevent the Emissary from using said Orb. Either way, Ben is going to find her (probably without her having aged a day), and she will wind up helping him contact the Prophets, possibly by sacrificing her own life to "inhabit" the Orb of the Emissary. Before that happens, however, she and Ben's father will get to have their moment of reconciliation, where she can say that she never really meant to hurt him or to leave him. [About 80% of that is hers; 20% is my own addition.]

It's scary how plausible that sounds...

I think that about covers it. On the whole, I'm a bit worried about season 7 on the basis of this episode: given the filler and the Sisko-related revelations, we may well be in for a "Season of Lost Souls" such as we got for TNG's last season (Geordi's mom, Geordi's dad, Data's mother, Picard's son, Troi's sister, and undoubtedly Barclay's stepmother's veterinarian's undiscovered pet hamster off-camera). "Image in the Sand" wasn't really bad; it was just surprisingly ...ordinary -- and that's not what the show deserves. We'll see.

So, wrapping up:

Writing: Some interesting ideas scattered around like seeds, but a lot of clunkiness to get set up for next week.
Directing: Apart from the nearly interminable musical interlude, no real worries.
Acting: Nothing stands out as really amazing, but nothing jumps out at me as weak, either.

OVERALL: Call it a very tentative 6, depending on how things go. I could easily see this moving two points in either direction by season's end.


Everybody gets in over his or her head.

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) <*>
"What makes you think she wants to spend eternity there? I know I certainly wouldn't. Imagine what it must be like -- hordes of rampaging Klingons fighting and singing, sweating and belching --" "Sounds like this place on a Saturday night."
"Would YOU want to spend eternity here?"
-- Quark and Bashir

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