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WARNING: "Strange Bedfellows" may be the title of this week's DS9, but in a review like this spoilers are never strange bedfellows -- so stand clear unless you want spoilage.

In brief: Progress on some fronts, disappointment on others. Interesting but uneven.

Brief summary: As Damar chafes under the new Dominion-Breen alliance, Worf and Ezri reach an understanding, and Winn faces a crisis of faith.

This "beginning of the end" four-parter of DS9 is starting to take a somewhat strange shape. While the powers that be are clearly aiming for a lot of twists and turns before we reach the series' end, the twists themselves seem to alternate between the interesting, well-placed varieties and the out-of-character, subtle-as-a-brick ones. Of the two major stories in "Strange Bedfellows," one had a twist of the first variety, and one of the second. I'm still engaged enough to be quite curious about what lies ahead, but some of the fervor from "'Til Death Do Us Part" has faded.

"Strange Bedfellows" has at least two meanings in this episode. The first, more literal one, refers to Winn and "Anjohl" (nee Dukat), who have become bedmates as well as soulmates after last week's events. This time, Dukat continues his quest to bring down Sisko on behalf of the Pagh Wraiths, but after Winn has a second vision (this one overtly from the Pagh Wraiths), he makes his campaign to convert Winn far more open, telling her outright where his allegiance lies (though not his identity) and urging her to turn away from the "false gods" of Bajor who have never done a thing to help her after years of sacrifice.

After the buildup from "'Til Death Do Us Part," I wanted to like this an awful lot. Unfortunately, some of the Winn/Dukat plotline this week is leaving a sour taste in my mouth, primarily because of Winn's eventual conversion to the Pagh Wraith cause. Having Dukat as a counselor subtly leading Winn down the wrong path (a la Grima Wormtongue in The Lord of the Rings, for a classic genre example) is one thing; having Winn openly decide over the span of a day or so that the Prophets aren't worth her time and that the Pagh Wraiths are is quite another. I don't buy it, for a host of reasons.

The main one is that Winn, for all of her faults (and they are quite numerous) has always struck me as someone who honestly does think she's doing what's best for Bajor. That belief may not always be valid, but she sees herself as a patriot and as a spiritual leader. The temptations of power are certainly understandable, but I don't see them as powerful enough to make her turn her back on the beings she has professed to love for her entire life. Dukat may be persuasive, but he's not that good.

The other problem, really, is that I think this removes the shades of gray from yet another DS9 antagonist. A year and a half ago, "Waltz" turned Dukat from a three-dimensional character into a single-minded lunatic, and Dukat has only recently begun to recover from that. Now, in the space of five minutes, we're seeing it happen again. The more complex Winn who could switch sides in "The Circle," who could make Kira realize that the Resistance was more than physical in "[[Rapture]," and who could actually bring herself to beg the Emissary for guidance in "In the Cards," is now an Eeeeeeeeeeevil Plotting Villain given to saying things like "[anyone opposing us] will be swept away like dry leaves in an angry wind." Decent imagery, perhaps, but hardly the characterization of Winn I've preferred.

(Even if I could see Winn eventually heading down this path knowingly, I couldn't see it happening after just one episode. Let it build!)

Even if I disagree with the overall arc of the character, however, there are aspects to the story that I liked a fair bit. The main one was the use of Kira. When Winn angrily ordered Anjohl out of her quarters and later called Kira for spiritual advice, I felt for her -- and was pretty impressed that she was aware enough of her shortcomings to turn to Kira for help. Kira, to her credit, didn't take an opportunity to tell Winn off the way she's always wanted to, but instead offered some reasonably good (if well-worn) advice. I can understand Winn's reluctance to step down as Kai, as well; even if she is flawed, she's "obviously" still one of the best people around to lead Bajor. This scene and others tried their best to keep Winn real; it was only Winn's final scene which did the major damage. (A secondary angle is Winn's initial reaction to the Pagh Wraith vision: calling for an Orb to cleanse herself made a lot of sense, and I'm still left to wonder why the Prophets did nothing for her. One possibility is that Dukat somehow switched the Orb for a false one, but I can't figure out how he'd do it.)

Just as one antagonist became less three-dimensional, however, another one seems to have continued flaring to life. That person is Legate Damar, and just as much as last week's show was Winn's and Dukat's to make or break, this one belongs to Damar and Weyoun.

I wondered last week whether we might be leading up to Damar pulling Cardassia out of the Dominion (or rather, trying to). "Strange Bedfellows" gave us the first step down that road for Damar, and it's a road that's been well constructed over the past few weeks. Damar's pep talk from Dukat last week helped, but the sudden alliance with the Breen and its related repercussions for Cardassia was the final straw. With the new Breen alliance, Cardassia is no longer the major Alpha Quadrant contributor to the Dominion -- and in fact, with the heavy losses it's taken in the war, it's not even the most powerful Alpha Quadrant contributor any more. Based on Weyoun's remarks, it's pretty clear that he considers the Cardassians not much more than cannon fodder at this point, and Damar realizes that. Now, one could argue that Weyoun's being an idiot and pushing Damar too hard; one might even be right, but Weyoun's always had that problem. (Think about how the very first Weyoun we saw died three years ago.) The fact is that Damar has just realized that Cardassia's deal with the devil is getting a wee bit too hot for comfort, and he's looking for a way out. Freeing Ezri and Worf is a first step, but I'm assuming we'll see a great deal more before much more time has passed.

Beyond the simple tale of "Damar finally gets fed up and jumps ship," however, it was the execution of this storyline that made it the runaway winner of the week. Early in the episode, virtually every scene with Damar in it has him protesting some indignity or slight (including his marvelous "there are no minor planets in the Cardassian Union"). Later on, however, Damar gets to show off a terrifically sarcastic streak, especially after a nice twist about halfway through the show: Weyoun-7 gets a bit too close to Worf and is rewarded with a snapped neck and a quick death. Damar's laughter at Weyoun's fate is expected, but still somewhat chilling, and his later suggestion that Weyoun-8 "should talk to Worf again" had him (and me) laughing. I also liked his calm reaction to Ezri's and Worf's apparent escape, particularly when it looks like Weyoun will be called to account for it. "Oh, I'm sure [the Founder will] understand -- but if she doesn't, I look forward to meeting Weyoun-9." As Worf put it, "Always the barb." Very nice.

Speaking of Worf, it appears that he and Ezri have resolved their "situation," which I'm glad to see, mostly because said situation was leading to a lot of repetitive scenes. There are only so many times I can watch those two bicker before I want to throw something large and heavy at them, and I think that point was passed about halfway through "'Til Death Do Us Part." After a couple of those scenes this time, however, we actually got a more serious discussion towards the end of the episode, and the state of their relationship seems to actually get some resolution. Neither Worf nor Ezri really meant for things to get so out of control in "Penumbra," it seems; Worf was letting himself see Jadzia rather than Ezri, and Ezri was letting the part of her that was married to Worf guide her actions. The dialogue was definitely better this time around (Ezri's "Do you really think that I would disobey orders and risk my life so that I could seduce you? I hate to burst your bubble, Worf, but it wasn't that good" is a particular favorite), but overall I'm just pleased this plot seems to be resolved.

The rest of the action is pretty minor this time around. We get a scene with Martok discussing marriage with Sisko -- Martok's appearance is a little forced, but the man can certainly spin a yarn. We also get a first look at Sisko's married life, which isn't that much different from his single life, except that Kasidy is now getting the same requests for blessings and advice that her Emissary husband does. (Sisko's amused "Welcome to the club!" was great.) Not much new on this front.

Other thoughts:

-- To people who have been writing me about the Breen: yes, I know they look a lot like Princess Leia's disguise from "Return of the Jedi." So does everyone else; thus, I haven't bothered mentioning it -- so you can stop asking now.  :-)

-- If you want "Star Wars" parallels, though, Damar has been in a very Lando Calrissian-like situation for a while now. I keep expecting him to mutter about how "this deal is getting worse all the time..."

-- If Weyoun wanted Worf and Dax in the same cell so that they could "physically comfort" each other, how exactly does hanging them upside-down help?

-- With all of the speculation about who will be killed in this final run of episodes, I'm surprised no one realized that Weyoun could be killed and still be around. (I hadn't thought of it.) Wonderful things, clones...

-- Although I disliked most of Dukat's speech telling Winn that all she's ever really wanted was power, the irony of him telling her to "stop pretending to be something you're not!" is absolutely delicious.

-- Dukat has now been on the station for two episodes straight without anyone recognizing him. Since he's limited his contacts to Winn and Sobor, I can still pretty much believe it; I'm just waiting for the inevitable moment that Kira or Sisko (likely Sisko) hears "Anjohl" speak in public and starts making connections.

-- Incidentally, Dukat/Anjohl's swaggering grin as he strode off to get Sobor was terrific.

-- The O'Brien/Bashir/Quark scene was pretty much painful. It sets up for a future Ezri/Bashir pairing, yes, but their sudden depression is rather at odds with their cavalier "guess they got delayed" attitude at Sisko's wedding last week, and felt ponderously slow to boot. No, thank you.

-- "Leave me!" "Oh, shut up." Heh.

-- An unrelated matter: since people have occasionally asked what I look like, I can point out that anyone watching "Jeopardy!" on June 16 will have a chance to find out.

That pretty much wraps things up. While I'm bitterly disappointed that Winn's fall from grace was done with all the subtlety of a shovel to the back of the head, the Damar material is more than promising enough to keep me wondering what's to come. "Strange Bedfellows" is certainly a drop from "'Til Death Do Us Part, but not by that much. We'll see what lies ahead...

So, wrapping up:

Writing: Absolutely great stuff with Damar and Weyoun; Winn's final transformation to conniving villain fell almost completely flat.
Directing: Some nice wordless scenes (particularly Damar and the mirror), and everything moved along well except for that scene in Quark's.
Acting: No real complaints, though some people didn't seem quite as on their game as they were last week.

OVERALL: 7.5. Good in some areas, not so good in others.

NEXT WEEK:

Damar's moment of truth.

"I'm glad to see you find the death of my predecessor so amusing."
"Oh, you misjudge me! I miss him deeply."
-- Weyoun-8 and Damar

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