WARNING: Those laboring "In Purgatory's Shadow" to avoid DS9 spoilers had best skip over this post.
In brief: Very ambitious -- not all of it worked, but a lot did.
Brief summary: As Worf and Garak are imprisoned by the Dominion while on a mission to find the lost Enabran Tain, Sisko prepares for an imminent invasion.
"In Purgatory's Shadow", if nothing else, gets full marks for trying to cover a lot of ground. It closed the book on some of the mystery surrounding Garak, it began the Dominion invasion that's been anticipated for two and a half seasons, it made a couple of interesting revelations about characters we've seen a lot, and it also may have explained a couple of small items from recent shows, intentionally or otherwise. It's a good example of why I keep watching DS9 as faithfully as I do ... and also why I feel so frustrated by the show on many occasions.
Having a show set on a stationary venue such as DS9 necessitates an attention to consequences -- personal consequences to the characters such as should be present on every series, and consequences to the region as a whole: Bajor, Cardassia, the wormhole, the station, etc. Paying attention to consequences, moreover, almost requires planning ahead; otherwise, the consequences dealt with will be a fairly random smattering. DS9, therefore, more than any other Trek series ever made, needs to be planned out -- not scripted years in advance, or anything, but if a substantial change is to be made, then there should be some idea of where things are going to go afterward.
What impresses me about DS9 is the willingness to establish that requirement, and the fact that DS9 has been better about showing consequences than any other Trek series ever made. What always frustrates me about it is that it doesn't do it nearly often enough. "In Purgatory's Shadow" is more an example of the former than the latter, but has enough elements of both to be a good example of why DS9 can simultaneously keep me riveted and subconsciously make me annoyed as hell at it.
Let's take, for instance, the revelation that Garak is the son of the now-late Enabran Tain. Does it work? Yes, absolutely -- parts of it feel a little cliched to me, as it seems to suggest that no one can ever have a weakness for someone else without a blood relationship, but the climactic scene was well handled and extremely well played by Andrew J. Robinson and Paul Dooley (Robinson in particular). Is it something I think was planned out from the first time we saw Tain? Probably not. Do I think it was intended back from the last time we saw Tain, in season 3's "The Die Is Cast"? Probably not, although both Tain and Garak are so damned cryptic that you could interpret their statements almost any way you please. :-) Did that lessen the power of the scene? Perhaps a little, but only after one has a lot of time to think about it. It does, however, manage to do what it absolutely must: it fits the already known facts, and above all else it got me involved.
I'll come back to more examples in a bit; for now, let's get to the actual plot of this show -- or rather, plots, since at the moment there are two fairly separate ones. On the whole, the station-centered one worked very well; we all knew a Dominion invasion had to come someday, and even the seeming coincidence of Worf and Garak being in the right place to find out about the invasion just as it's on the way doesn't really get in the way. Nearly everything else -- Sisko's decision to seal the wormhole, Dax's concern for Worf, Kira's concern for the Prophets, Dukat's wish to get his daughter out of harm's way, Dominion sabotage, and so on -- is a sensible and usually compelling consequence of that one event, and everything held together nicely.
That is, almost everything. There is, not unexpectedly, one exception -- and it's a beaut. After Sisko makes the decision to seal the wormhole, O'Brien and the engineering team has to spend 36 hours doing a lot of modifications in order to be ready. From a strategic point of view, that makes zero sense. If sealing the wormhole has always been a final option, then you have a contingency plan in place that you can carry out in as little time as possible. 36 hours is not "as little time as possible"; hell, the Dominion could probably have gotten to the wormhole a lot faster than they did if they'd felt like it. Those modifications should have been in place two years ago; the fact that they're not means that Sisko, O'Brien, and all of Starfleet's strategic thinkers back on Earth are asleep at the switch. (What would have worked better, in my view, would be to find out that the modifications were ready, but that unseen sabotage had wrought havoc with them, so that they had to improvise a new plan. That makes a 36-hour delay justifiable.)
On a character level, however, just about everything on (and off) the station worked like a charm. I particularly liked Dukat's reappearance and discovery of his daughter's romantic feelings for Garak. Dukat, as we've seen before, has an ego the size of several small nebulae; he takes personal slights and personal betrayals very badly. The combination of public opinion on the station running for Garak and against him, Kira's refusal to step in and refusal to take his threats seriously, and Ziyal's own act of rebellion in refusing to leave the station are definitely enough to make Dukat go and do something rash. I assume this is setting up something significant for the second part; I hope it's something that makes sense. (Other issues, such as Kira's concern over Bajor losing access to the Prophets, took up less screen time but also worked exceedingly well.)
In fact, my only real problem with all of the Garak/Ziyal and Dukat/Ziyal issues flying around here was, surprisingly enough, with the acting. Ziyal has now been played by three different actresses: Cyia Batten back in "Indiscretion" and "Return to Grace", who was quite good; Tracy Middendorf in "For the Cause", who was reasonable; and now Melanie Smith, who I regret to say is clearly the weakest of the three. Granted, on a few lines here and there there's not much anyone could have done -- "If you never came back, I don't know what I'd do" is bad Harlequin Romance dialogue. Most of the time, though, the emotions made sense and the dialogue made sense -- it just didn't feel convincing on Smith's end. Her performance, in fact, had the effect of actively bringing down the level of scenes with Robinson or with Marc Alaimo -- and that's a truly difficult task. Sigh.
Turning from the station to the Worf/Garak side of things, it all came off fine once I could bring myself to swallow one particular premise which just didn't feel right. That premise was the very idea of a Jem'Hadar prison camp. I don't know why it doesn't feel right; given the Changeling interest in infiltration, keeping captives alive to glean personal information makes sense. Even the fact that it means the head Changeling lied outright to Garak in "Broken Link" is not really a problem from a character point of view; it lessens the impact of her
speech, but Changelings don't seem to have any major proscription against lying. Something about it just ... feels wrong, and I can't put a finger on it.
In any case, if I take the prison idea as a given, the rest worked fine. Having Garak be found out while en route to the Gamma Quadrant is entirely sensible (though the fact that Bashir is the one who did it could have interesting implications; more on that shortly), having Sisko assign Worf as escort is entirely befitting, and gets both of them out of his hair :-), and Garak's interest in locating Tain makes sense once their relationship is out in the open.
Apart from the Garak/Tain revelation, the most interesting thing to come out of the prison side of the story so far is the fact that Bashir has been a captive there for a month as well, with a Changeling taking his place. This is another case of something that works just fine, but something I wish had been at least hinted at. (I'm not nearly so worried about it since Bashir's only been gone a month; had it been a year or something, we should have seen some indication.) What's more, Bashir's duplicate brings a couple of issues into question. Firstly, it seems that the Founders wanted Garak to go after Tain, but not alone -- one wonders if they had Worf specifically in mind, and if so, then why Worf. Secondly, if we assume about two weeks between episodes (given 26 episodes a year, that makes sense), then a month takes us back to "The Begotten", where Odo regains his shapeshifting abilities. Assuming Bashir had already been replaced, that means that the Founders were aware of Odo's find and of his return to his normal self -- and perhaps that they arranged it as a test. That makes for some interesting ideas, and I'm sure this is something that's going to be followed up in the future.
That covers the majority of the show. "In Purgatory's Shadow" is a little difficult to really rate properly, as it feels like an hour of prologue in many ways. I will say, though, that despite my frustrations with the episode and with the series in general, I'm dying to see how the invasion gets dealt with next week. At this point, Garak's personal mission is ended and he needs to somehow escape with Worf, there's still a Bashir shapeshifter loose on the station, and the Dominion has arrived. That's a lot to take care of next week; I hope it works.
So, a few other comments:
-- There are a few scenes I never really mentioned: Kira and Odo's scene in his quarters about his return to Changeling-hood and his abortive interest in romance, the Worf/Dax farewell, and the Kira/Dax banter about the O'Briens' son Kirayoshi. The first and third seemed reasonable and interesting; the second worked about as well for me as anything involving Worf and Dax as a couple has, which is to say not at all.
-- The show was dedicated "to the memory of Derek Garth". Who is Derek Garth? (Given my experience with Eric Pierpoint last week, however, I have to ask that anyone who knows not answer me after the 19th of February. The first hundred replies should give me a reasonable idea...)
-- Garak, as usual, had a lot of the best lines of the show. I really liked his reference to replicator boredom: "I'd like to get my hands on that fellow Earl Grey and teach him a thing or two about tea leaves." :-)
-- Trivia note: Sisko says that the procedure developed to seal the wormhole was created by "Dr. Kahn of the Trill Science Institute", or something like that. Dax also calls her "Lenara" later. That's a nice reference back to last year's "Rejoined", where we actually meet Lenara Kahn, Dax's former wife.
-- Given Dukat's attempts to get Ziyal off the station, I wonder if Sisko made a similar attempt with Jake. We've seen him do similar things before.
-- Between Dukat and the Jem'Hadar guard, I have to wonder if there was a 2-for-1 sale on opportunities to strangle Garak this week...
-- And, since I made some reference to it in last week's preview, let me note it again. The music during the final scene of the episode was very reminiscent of Holst's "Mars, the Bringer of War" -- compellingly so. I just hope the Holst estate is getting royalties. :-)
-- Finally, a bad pun that has nothing to do with the show apart from the fact that it was during the show that I thought of it. Let's suppose that famous cartoon character Homer Simpson were to rise to a high rank in the Cardassian military. Given Homer, I have to assume he'd always be running late, keeping everyone waiting. A suitable title for this circumstance might well be "Waiting for Gul D'Oh!"
On that note, I'd better get out of here before I'm tarred and feathered. :-) Wrapping up:
Writing: I'm not sure about the Jem'Hadar prison, and the lack of advance preparation regarding the wormhole really makes no sense. Apart from that, seems strong to me.
Directing: Good work on the whole, particularly in the Garak/Tain sequences.
Acting: I could do without Melanie Smith, but everyone else was fine.
OVERALL: A 9, I think -- rather provisional, though, since a lot of it will depend on next week.
Victory is decided.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Then why all of the deception?"
"Because lying is a skill like any other, and if you want to maintain a level of excellence you have to practice constantly."
-- Worf and Garak