WARNING: This article contains spoilers for DS9's "The Adversary". Make not an enemy of thy fellow readers by removing spoiler protection without good cause.
In brief: Quite nice, actually. A convincingly paranoid story -- some glitches here and there, but not enough to ruin the concept.
Brief summary: The newly promoted Captain Sisko takes the Defiant to prevent a possible war, only to find that a Changeling saboteur aboard has other ideas in mind...
Whew. Well, despite the fact that the Federation/Dominion conflict is not, to me, the central strength of the series (and likely never will be), "The Adversary" managed to up the sense of concern here rather substantially over the course of the episode. The entire show felt slightly off-kilter, but in a way that made you edgy rather than put off. That's not an easy feeling to create successfully, and I was surprisingly pleased with what I saw.
One of the nice things was the extent to which layers of deception were created by the Dominion here. Plausibility was strained a little bit in Sisko et al. not checking with someone other than the faux-Ambassador Krajensky about the mission against the Tzenkethi, but the command structure within the Federation makes such a plan possible, I suppose. More interesting, though, was the way in which the viewer was tricked and fooled while the search for the Changeling was going on. For instance, when Dax was put out of the picture, our suspicions fell very quickly to O'Brien as the culprit. Now, I still think that's an option that needed checking out, but having Bashir as the Changeling for about a third of the show worked nicely, not least because we'd already seen the Changeling turn into Bashir once and thus might not expect it to happen a second time.
In fact, Bashir's presence altered certain calls we'd made earlier in the show. When Odo's observation of Sisko's bleeding led to the "blood test" idea to screen out crewmembers, I thought to myself that Bashir really should have pegged to that idea early. As it happens, if I'd been thinking about things a little differently I might have figured out that Bashir was the Changeling well before it became obvious (during Bashir's little vial-switch). There were several little touches along those lines that helped -- another one, just as an example, was the fact
that the false Odo's "information" about the kayaking trip not only could have been picked up anywhere (as Odo claimed), but WAS picked up on screen, at least in part -- Odo referred to their kayaking trips back in "Heart of Stone" when he thought he was talking to Kira. Touches like that help a great deal to give a show a feeling of actually transpiring and making sense in the process.
Of course, there were a few places in the story where I was snapped out by skepticism. I have difficulty believing, for instance, that the Federation had another major war sometime in the last couple of decades without us hearing about it. It was a little difficult to believe back when this trick was pulled with the Cardassians four years ago, but not quite so tough, as we knew less about the times. Now, though, we're meant to believe that there were two major wars in which the Federation became involved in just the decade or so prior to TNG's beginnings. That seems just a bit odd to me. I also had some serious curiosity about how the Federation feels about Odo serving a critical role aboard the Defiant, particularly with Eddington present --
after all, Eddington's presence on DS9 at all is because the Federation didn't trust Odo, and that's a distrust that would likely have grown once the Founders' nature became known.
My other objection is a bit stronger, as it turned a character temporarily into an idiot. O'Brien's actions in the final confrontation between Changelings was not sensible -- having the security man hold a phaser on them both was fine for the short-term, but at that point you either call for backup so that you don't have to divide your
attention, or you stun them BOTH -- after all, Odo is not going to be crucial to regaining control of the ship in the next five minutes, is he? I can understand O'Brien perhaps not thinking of it, but the security guard there certainly should have -- it's his job to think of things like that, for heaven's sake. That was the only strikingly wrong note in the entire show.
Fortunately, there were several other moments that worked quite well, especially on the side of characterization. The rather coy way in which we were made aware of Sisko's promotion (i.e. his "final" log
entry) was a bit much, but the dialogue in the rest of the party felt utterly right. Sisko claiming nonchalantly that his new rank meant that he was never wrong was priceless, and Eddington's aside that he was speaking "as someone who is obsessed with rank and title" was equally so. We had that, Dax's insistence that Sisko had to tell her something about Yates to take back to her gossip-hungry crewmates, Jake's curiosity about Quark's champagne, and even everyone looking at Eddington when Sisko announced sabotage (after all, he sabotaged it last time...) -- all of it felt far more realistic and true to the characters than most of this season has. A substantial amount of effort seemed to go into this, with promising results.
As for the ending -- well, the paranoid atmosphere that the battle with the Changeling created bled into the atmosphere of the final meeting. Odo's recounting of the Changeling's last words, "You're too late; we're everywhere" actually had me feeling a bit worried. At the start of the season, we saw some sense that the population of DS9 was feeling on edge about a possible Dominion invasion -- now, if things are to follow through sensibly, we need to see that taken several levels up. After all, we no longer have any idea who is or is not trustworthy -- and certainly, any orders coming in will probably have to be double- or triple-checked. Despite some of the problems I've had with this season, I am curious to see where this situation goes from here -- and that, after all, is the main point of the season finale: to lure you back for another year.
That would seem to cover the main points -- so, some short takes and I'm outta here.
-- Okay, so the real ambassador was abducted and possibly killed en route to Risa. Frankly, between this and Geordi being captured and brainwashed en route to Risa (not to mention Picard falling under the hypnotic spell of a bimbo there ... oh, wait, that's not so obvious :-) ), I think Risa should definitely be losing its luster as a vacation spot...
-- O'Brien's referring to Sisko as the fleet's "newest and best captain" was intriguing. O'Brien has never really seemed the type to go in for false compliments; so has he really come to consider Sisko superior to Picard? Just a thought.
-- I did have to wonder about Sisko's confining "nonessential" personnel to quarters. Excuse me, but this is a possible battle mission -- just why are nonessential personnel even there?
-- The "2-person teams" idea was good, but not enough. If you want real security, crank it up to three people per team -- then, a Changeling would have to take two people out at once to avoid being detected. Sisko deserves credit for realizing that no one should be left alone, but it should have gone a bit further.
-- I also appreciated the implication that the auto-destruct is on an entirely independent system from the rest of the ship. (At least, I assume that was the intention, given that it seemed to work perfectly despite the sabotage.) Given the entire purpose of the system, it's something that should be completely isolated.
That's it. So, wrapping up:
Writing: Some minor plot implausibilities, but nothing gigantic -- some fairly good thinking, and nice characterization.
Directing: Quite nice; everything felt cramped and tense, as well it should have. Kudos to Alexander Singer.
Acting: No complaints. Brooks seemed particularly strong this week.
OVERALL: A 9, I think. Not a bad way to head into reruns at all.
NEXT WEEK: The rerun season begins with "Civil Defense". Me, I'll have a season-end review ready ... sometime. :-)
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"My son, the writer, thinks I ought to say something profound on this occasion."