WARNING: With "Penumbra," we've reached the beginning of the end of DS9 -- and with this spoiler warning, you've reached the end of the beginning of this review.
In brief: A fair bit of time is wasted here, but things are definitely building...
Brief summary: As Ezri goes searching for a missing Worf, Sisko comes to a decision about his relationship with Kasidy Yates, and Dukat returns with a new plan.
A more appropriate title for "Penumbra" might be "A Tale of Two Romances"; the three successors to "Penumbra" were supposed to be titled "Umbra," "Eclipse," and "Emergence," but since those three have changed "Penumbra" itself is a somewhat meaningless title. "A Tale of Two Romances" neatly sums up most of the episode, dealing as it does with the continuance of the Sisko/Kasidy romance and the probable beginnings of a Worf/Ezri one. Both have their charms, but only one really came off as real to me when all was said and done.
That one was the Sisko/Kasidy pairing. I've said at times that the chemistry between the two characters leaves something to be desired; it might have been more appropriate to say that it can be very erratic. In this case, one really gets the sense that this is a couple who have been through a lot together and are both comfortable with the situation as it is; in short, it's a more mature relationship than the ones you typically see on Trek. In this case, as Sisko talked about the house he planned to build on Bajor, I could sense a genuine warmth coming from the characters, which has not always been the case. As such, Sisko's marriage proposal came off as ... well, as rather sweet, really. Even if it hadn't, it might have been worth it to see Jake's gloating reaction at being named best man ("that means I get to plan the bachelor party!"), but the overall sense of this part of the episode was a good one.
Unfortunately, I can't say the same for the Worf/Ezri pairing, for any number of reasons. Among them is the tired motif of making the two of them bicker to avoid talking about their "real feelings." Does it happen in real life? Absolutely. Is it particularly interesting to watch on screen? Usually, no -- not unless the chemistry between the principals is especially good, and I don't think that's the case here. Then, of course, you have the bickering ending in a clinch between the two, which is definitely in "been there, done that" territory.
I also have a couple of more fundamental objections to the Worf/Ezri pairing beyond the way in which it was accomplished. The first is the difference in experience between the characters. Worf is, in many ways, one of the "oldest" characters we know; he's been on screen during every season of Trek since 1987 save one (and even in that one we saw him on film in "Generations"). We've already seen Worf in a couple of very serious relationships (namely K'Ehleyr and Jadzia Dax), not to mention a fling or two along the way (such as "Birthright II," though I realize that's not a particular favorite of most people). Ezri, on the other hand, has been very deliberately shown as a very "young," very naive character; she may have the memories of seven lifetimes, but she doesn't have the understanding of someone with seven lifetimes of experience. Ezri could almost be a teenager -- I recall several comments in the fall from people saying they felt almost paternal towards her -- and the fact that she's so small compared to virtually every other character reinforces that sense of youth. As such, pairing her romantically with Worf just feels vaguely unsavory.
The second issue surrounding Worf/Ezri is one of falling into a rut. When Terry Farrell left DS9 last year, the powers that be said that they wanted to do something different with Ezri. Well, setting her up with the same character isn't particularly different; it would have been more surprising (and, dare I say, more daring?) to have let her actually establish an independent relationship with Worf that didn't involve romance. Maybe Worf wouldn't have been comfortable with that -- that's fine. As it stands, however, we saw virtually no interaction between these characters for months, and then suddenly here they are paired up. It gets old.
Moving on to a different topic ... the parts of "Penumbra" which weren't romance-related (and even some of the ones which were!) were primarily setting the stage for later events. We got Ezri's search for Worf, the various (and nefarious) goings-on on Cardassia, and the Prophets further complicating Sisko's life. Since most of these are only now at the point of showing the problems, it's going to be hard to talk about whether they've been resolved well; all I can do is take a look at what's happened so far.
I rather liked Ezri's search, even if I didn't care for the outcome. Quark's pick-me-up, while very Ferengi in its manner, actually showed his concern quite effectively. The audio montage as she walked through Worf's quarters was a fairly unorthodox way (by Trek standards) of showing Dax lost in thought, and carried a reasonable emotional wallop. Her subsequent detective work in the Badlands, intentionally setting herself adrift and following the plasma currents to Worf's escape pod, was actually a fairly nice bit of reasoning, and one the Defiant probably couldn't have duplicated. (I have some difficulty with how well it worked, particularly given that the currents change and that her analysis would depend awfully heavily on which second Worf's pod left the ship, but I'm willing to suspend disbelief there.)
Later, after the inevitable let's-toss-these-characters-together-and-see-if-they-stick bit, we see Worf and Ezri ambushed by a pair of Breen, and as the episode ends they're stuck on board a Breen vessel, heading who-knows-where. This certainly caught my attention; the Breen haven't been used much at all, so they could be up to almost anything. If they turn out to be major players in the final episodes, I'll be a trifle concerned at the lack of buildup, but my guess is that they'll wind up tying into something else peripherally.
Meanwhile, on Cardassia ... more than half of what we saw did little more than re-establish what we already saw earlier this season. Damar and Weyoun-7 (assuming that we're still dealing with Weyoun-7) are still maintaining an uneasy peace, Damar is still drinking a bit more than he should, and the Founders are still suffering from the illness we saw in "Treachery, Faith, and the Great River." Nothing there rang particularly false (save, perhaps, how clearly dominant Weyoun was over Damar, which didn't fit with the last time we saw them), but there wasn't much new to look at either.
Even so, most of those scenes were fairly well executed. In particular, I liked Damar's snide "No, of course it doesn't" after being told something doesn't concern him, and the Weyoun/Founder scene. I'm somewhat curious as to who she's planning on contacting with her new equipment (my assumption is Odo), but of more interest was the look of sheer anguish on Weyoun's face. We've heard him insist before that the Founders are gods, but this scene brought home just how deeply Weyoun (or at least Weyoun-7) seems to feel it. Interesting.
The real setup began when Dukat strolled back on the scene. Given everything we've seen of the post-"Waltz" Dukat, I've no idea if what's in store for the character is going to be something I'll like --but as is often the case, Marc Alaimo manages to charge up scenes regardless of the material. All we know at this point is that he still "knows the love of the Pagh Wraiths," and that he's had himself surgically altered to pass as a Bajoran. I suspect he's somehow going to crash Sisko's wedding, personally ... but for now I don't know, and I'm extremely curious.
Last but not least, we have the upcoming Sisko/Kasidy nuptials ... at least possibly. Very early on, there's a sense that all will not go well -- considering that Sisko's proposal was buried in the conversation about the house he plans to build on Bajor, viewers with long memories will realize that Sisko was once told he would "find no rest" on Bajor and begin to wonder. We also get a fairly entertaining interlude where Sisko realizes just how big a deal this will be from Bajor's point of view -- but the main complication comes in the final scene of the show, when he's told flat-out by the Prophets (in the form of his mother Sarah) that he "must walk the path alone," and that Kasidy cannot share it with him. It's a shame when your mother disapproves of your wedding like that. :-)
On the one hand, that's an interesting little dictum from our resident wormhole aliens, with all kinds of questions and possibilities springing out of it. Why do the Prophets care? Why will Sisko be condemned to a life of sorrow if he goes ahead with the wedding? (One obvious possibility there is that Dukat is going to kill her, but I'm hoping for something less blatant.) Will Sisko rebel against the Prophets again, knowing what happened the last time he did so? Lots of interesting questions here.
On the other hand, over the last couple of years the Prophets have gotten much more direct and much more personal when it comes to Sisko; while that seems to fit given his background, I think it also takes something away from the Prophets. Half of the appeal for the Prophets, at least for me, was trying to figure out what the hell they meant at any given time, and if their choice of spokesbeing for their words had any relevance. (I still recall that in "Sacrifice of Angels," the Prophets dismissed something as "a corporeal matter" while taking
the form of Odo, which I thought was quite apt.) It's still interesting trying to project what form their prophecies will take when they play out, as I mentioned last paragraph -- but when the gods simply show up point-blank and say, "Hey, son, don't do this -- lots of bad mojo ahead," something is lost in the process. (It doesn't help that I don't particularly care for Deborah Lacey's performance; if the Prophets are going to be appearing as Sarah for the rest of the season, I hope she can do more than just seem ethereal.)
-- I absolutely loathed the fake "static" Ezri used while leaving the station. The idea of it wasn't horrible, but the execution was; even a three-year-old Ferengi wouldn't have bought "shhhh!" as static.
-- If Sisko wants Admiral Ross to perform the wedding, I'm guessing that Bashir hasn't told him about the events of "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges." One wonders why.
-- The return of Captain Boday to Dax's social life was cute, transparent skull and all. ("Personally, I don't understand what Jadzia ever saw in the man." "Well ... his brains.")
-- It was also very nice to see the Son'a mentioned as guarding the new supply of ketracel-white. It's nice to see at least a slight nod that "Insurrection" existed.
-- If the Cardassians really don't know of the Founders' condition, then the Federation is ahead of them for a change, as I assume Odo informed everyone after he found out.
-- Is there some reason why the field packs aren't right next to the transporter in the runabout? It seems that's where they'd be needed for a quick getaway...
-- Sisko let Ezri go because "she'd never forgive me if I stopped her." Hell, if that's a good reason, I'm surprised half the station hasn't taken off. :-)
-- So Worf sang Klingon opera in the escape pod. Somehow, I'm not surprised -- but that particular part of the Ezri/Worf conversation worked well.
-- When Sisko gave Kasidy the engagement ring, I'm fairly certain that the model he lifted up was of an Orb casket. Was he planning on owning one, I wonder?
-- It was interesting to see that the Prophets finally called Sisko "Benjamin" here.
That should more or less cover it. "Penumbra" is far from perfect, relying too much on standard television "romance moments" when it could be doing a lot more -- but its main job was to prime the viewer for the shows lying immediately ahead, and in that respect I think it worked admirably. We'll see.
Writing: A somewhat unnecessary pairing-off of characters, and I'm not at all sure about the Prophets here ... but a lot of good setup and some nice moments.
Directing: The Prophets didn't carry the same punch; most of the rest was nice.
Acting: Apart from the horrible fake static in Ezri's runabout, no complaints.
OVERALL: 7 for now; reasonable, but I'm hoping for better in the next eight weeks.
Sisko faces some hard choices.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"What could she be thinking?"
"She's a Dax. Sometimes, they don't think -- they just DO."
-- Bashir and Sisko