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WARNING: While sailing along and "Tacking Into the Wind," I happened upon some DS9 spoilers.

In brief: A bit obvious in a few spots, but definitely a solid outing.

Brief summary: Kira and company head out on a crucial espionage mission for the Federation, Odo's condition worsens, and Worf finds the fate of the Klingon Empire resting in his hands.

Now that's more like it. I said last week that "When It Rains..." wasn't bad, but was somewhat padded in terms of setting for future material. Well, where "When It Rains..." was setup, "Tacking Into the Wind" is the beginning of the payoff, and as such is an episode where you're more likely to sit back and enjoy the ride. The episode isn't always as meaty as it might be, but it's tackling an awful lot.

Perhaps astonishingly, one of the meatiest sections of the show came from our gallant band of Klingons. After "When It Rains...", I wondered if we were seeing Gowron in the mix simply for the sake of more upheaval; as it turns out, we're actually seeing the Empire turn a corner, and we may in fact have achieved some Klingon Klosure. As we begin, it's evident that Gowron's offensive posture is doing the war and the Empire little good, and everyone knows it except for Gowron himself. Worf takes that a step further, and suggests to Sisko that Gowron may be doing this simply to eliminate Martok as a political competitor. (It wouldn't be the first time, he notes, that a chancellor has put personal gain ahead of the greater good.) Sisko tells Worf in no uncertain terms that Gowron needs to be stopped, and stopped now. Crossing the line in terms of interfering in a sovereign nation's politics? Well, yes, probably -- but it's not like this is the first time Sisko's done that.

Worf then does something which, while necessary, is about the most difficult choice for our "honorabler-than-thou" Klingon to make: he counsels Martok to challenge Gowron openly for the leadership of the Empire. Martok, currently recovering from injuries, refuses for a whole host of reasons, one of which is that it would be betraying his oath of fealty.

What follows is a conversation I've wanted to see for some time, even if I hadn't quite realized it. Worf tells Ezri of the situation, and after some hesitation she shares her thoughts with Worf. Those thoughts are blunt, to the point, and something we've never heard a "good guy" say so dispassionately: the Empire is dying -- collapsing under the weight of its leaders' corruption and everyone else's complacency -- and that it should be allowed to die

I've been saying for quite some time that we need to see a "cleansing" of the Federation, as I've had worries about the top brass there. I never expected to see a serious attempt at that, and I still may not see it -- but the fact that the DS9 staff is seriously trying to make sweeping changes in the Klingon Empire, the mainstay of modern Trek, is a surprise in and of itself. What Worf does in response to Ezri's suggestion is almost icing on the cake; it's the suggestion itself which carries the most interest, and is a conversation I was very glad to see.

Some of Worf's later actions are less than surprising: after hearing Gowron mistreat Martok yet again and set him up for another fall, Worf challenges Gowron himself, acknowledging his dual allegiance while challenging Gowron strictly as a member of the House of Martok. The traditional fight ensues, and Worf winds up winning. (No real surprise there, though seeing them actually kill off Gowron was impressive.) In one final twist, however, he refuses the leadership mantle that is given to him, instead telling all parties that Martok is the man to lead a new age of Klingons. Thus, low-born Martok finds himself in a role he did not covet: that of supreme leader.

There are two interesting parallels here to notice. First, this isn't the first time Worf has taken an active role in Klingon succession politics by knifing someone: by killing Duras way back in TNG's "Reunion," after all, Worf is the one primarily responsible for putting Gowron into power. Second, this isn't the first time Worf has played kingmaker: with Kahless' return in TNG's "Rightful Heir," it was Worf who came up with a solution that everyone could live with. (We also got a sense there of how little Gowron likes rivals who can rally the faith of the people.) Ron Moore had a substantial hand in writing both stories, and I suspect he consciously echoed pieces of them here to bring the saga of the Empire to a possible close. We may well have more Klingon stories in the future given Voyager and future series, but we also may not -- and as an ending place, putting Martok on the throne has a lot to recommend it.

The other "main" storyline went back to Kira and her team's assistance in Damar's rebellion. Like the Klingon material, this work could be named "The Old Order Changeth," but although successful it wound up being a little less interesting than Worf's situation.

Some of what we saw here involved the continued strife between Kira and Gul Rosot, only this time we get a little bit more of a reason for it than we did in "When It Rains...". Rosot is convinced that Kira's in this solely to have a chance to kill more Cardassians (indirectly this time instead of directly), and as such he views all of her orders with a suspicion bordering on the paranoid. He promises Kira swift retribution once the Dominion is defeated, but through Garak we're led to believe he won't wait that long. There's nothing bad here, but it's not hugely compelling either, since there's no reason for us to realistically fear for Kira's life.

The payoff on this story, however, comes from Damar. In the end, he needs to make a choice between Rosot and Kira. The surprise isn't that he chooses Kira: it's the means by which his new-found conviction comes about. It turns out that Weyoun has managed to locate Damar's wife and son, and has had them killed in retaliation for Damar's rebellion. When Damar hears the news, he is visibly upset by Weyoun's brutality, asking "What kind of people give those orders?" Kira, in a move that's true to herself but lousy on timing, immediately turns the question back on Damar, reminding him implicitly that many Cardassians gave exactly those orders during the Occupation. (I like the fact that she berated herself moments later for her timing; it's nice when characters acknowledge their own missteps.)

It turns out, though, that Garak's reassurance to Kira is on target: Damar really has turned a corner, and is enough of a man that he can accept Kira's criticism as valid. Damar, then, doesn't just wind up shooting Rosot to save Kira -- he shoots down Rosot's entire idea of what Cardassia should be, promising something better when all of this is over. Just as Worf played kingmaker for Martok, then, Kira has in some ways been the catalyst for Damar's new righteousness -- only hers was unintentional. Interesting.

The actual mission Kira carries out is somewhat less important, but intriguing: they decide to capture an intact Breen weapon so as to let the Federation develop a workable defense. The mission goes reasonably well, thanks to Odo's ability to disguise himself as the female Founder and Kira's ability to disguise her voice and bearing as that of a Vorta. I'm not surprised in the least that the mission was successful, but in execution the scenes came off quite well.

Meanwhile, the Founders' disease is affecting Odo far faster than it has anyone else, and Odo theorizes it's because he's had to change forms so often on his current mission. Garak discovers Odo's true condition early on, but Odo swears Garak to secrecy, not wanting Kira to worry about him, and wanting Kira's pity even less. Odo's pain comes through very clearly in the few scenes he's in, and matters are made all the more poignant when we discover that Kira known full well how badly Odo's doing, and is keeping her own knowledge secret to allow Odo his dignity.

The only real hope for Odo, it seems, lies with Bashir ... and as we discover very early on, he's not having a lot of luck. There's some honest tension between him and O'Brien for a while as they debate options, and that tension is refreshing just on its own merits: it's been a long time since one character has told another "now, if you'll kindly get the hell out of here, I have work to do." While the two mend fences later, the honest conflict is nice.

As for O'Brien's idea: we'll see. Yes, pretending to have a cure so that Section 31 will send an operative out to "fetch" Bashir might be the best chance they have: but it also seems a pretty obvious gambit, and one that's far more likely to get Bashir and O'Brien killed outright than any leads. If Section 31 has been falling for that one for 300 years, it's a wonder they're still around. (Based on the preview, I have a pretty good idea of which operative they'll send, and I have some serious questions about that wisdom as well. Why not send one nobody on DS9 knows?)

For a change, "Tacking Into the Wind" spends almost no time on the villains. Winn and Dukat don't show up at all, which is a surprise: if several weeks have gone by since the previous episode (as is strongly implied), then one wonders how Dukat's doing out on the street. Weyoun and the Founder only get a single scene, but from that scene it's obvious that Weyoun's days are numbered as soon as the cloning facility is back up to speed, and that the Founder is getting even more ruthless as she gets more desperate. Nothing gigantically compelling here, but it's engaging enough.

Other thoughts:

-- No Ezri romance issues for a change. Whew!

-- Although I have my doubts about Bashir and O'Brien's plan, I do like the fact that we're not seeing Bashir pull a medical miracle out of some random body part.

-- Um ... Worf? If you're talking about opposing Gowron, doing it publicly at Quark's is probably not the best of ideas...

-- I liked very much the fact that Damar was recognized by the Cardassian guards, but was let through with tacit support.

-- I do wonder about the logic of sending those five people on Kira's mission, though. Kira and Odo had necessary uses, and Garak has a lot of experience, but why the others, especially when Damar's face is so well-known throughout the Cardassian Union?

-- Even given that DS9 was once a Cardassian station, I thought the redressing on the other station could have been a bit better.

-- One wonders why exactly Damar had to kill Rosot outright. Couldn't he have shot to wound? The point would still have been made, and it's not as though the rebellion is overflowing with soldiers at this point...

-- Using Cardassian civilians as shields is a rather timely act on the Founder's part, given recent events in Kosovo.

-- Wouldn't the Dominion have been better off taking Damar's family hostage rather than killing them? If that part was Weyoun's idea, chalk another tactical blunder up to the Vorta... (On the other hand, Damar and company went right aboard the Cardassian shuttle without much proof of the crew's veracity, which isn't too bright either.)

-- One sour note on the Kira/Damar/Garak material: as others mentioned last week, there seems to be no trace of animosity between Garak and Damar, and that doesn't seem to track given Damar's murder of Ziyal.

-- Look at Nana Visitor's face when Garak breaks the news about Odo. Just from her reaction, you can tell that Kira already knew before she ever says a word.

That should do for now. Some of "Tacking Into the Wind" is clearly setup more than a complete story (particularly the Bashir material, which is obviously leading into next week), but there's enough closure for me to feel satisfied, and I'm somewhat surprised at how much I liked the Klingon material. Definitely a worthwhile hour.

So, wrapping up:

Writing: At worst, it's a little obvious in spots and has slightly clunky logic. At best, it's got breathtaking stuff like Ezri's blunt advice to let the Empire die. A lot of character payoff here.
Directing: One of Vejar's better offerings, and that's saying something.
Acting: No complaints.

OVERALL: 9, I think. Not perfect, but very strong.

NEXT WEEK:

Cure, cure, who's got the cure?

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
tly...@alumni.caltech.edu <*>
"To kill her and my son ... the casual brutality of it ... a waste of life. What kind of state tolerates the murder of innocent women and children? What kind of people give those orders?"
"Yeah, Damar -- what kind of people give those orders?"
-- Damar and Kira

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