WARNING: DS9 may discuss "The Changing Face of Evil", but the face of spoilers never changes, and it lies ahead.
In brief: A few slow moments, but a lot of epic moments and turning points. Definitely worth the time.
Brief summary: As the new Dominion-Breen alliance strikes hard blows at the Federation, Dukat's plan for Winn is revealed, and Damar makes a fateful decision.
No matter what one thinks of "The Changing Face of Evil," I don't think anyone can get away with saying its events were inconsequential. In a single episode, we get to see major religious goings-on on Bajor with Winn and Dukat, huge political goings-on within the Dominion, and a battle with some fairly decisive consequences. You may say that the events in question are moving too fast or that they're ill-chosen (for the most part, I wouldn't), but I don't see any way for people to look upon all of this as meaningless.
As a place to start, let's take the material I felt most uncomfortable with last time around, namely the temptation and fall of Kai Winn. While I still feel as though things moved too fast to be really convincing last week, a week's reflection and the further treatment of Winn this time around has made me much more comfortable with Winn's situation. Despite her bold (and way over-the-top) speech at the end of "Strange Bedfellows," Winn is not simply a jealous power-mad leader; both of those traits are in evidence, but she's clearly got more than a few misgivings about where her choices are taking her. Every further step down her newly-chosen path is an effort, and the only reason she keeps taking them is her faith in hew new-found confidant and advisor, "Anjohl."
This episode brings back the Dukat I was worried I'd lost after "Strange Bedfellows"; while "Anjohl" is becoming more and more Dukat-like in his mannerisms, he has once again realized that he can be at his most manipulative when he labors behind the scenes. A quick appeal to Winn's vanity here, a slight suggestion about how close she's coming to real power there, and every new step is sweetened just enough to let her walk it. Early in the show, it was using the most grim book from the Bajoran religious archives, the Kosst Amojin; by the end of the show, Winn has been goaded by Dukat and by random chance into killing Solbor, one of her longest-serving aides, in cold blood. Marc Alaimo is playing this new serpent-in-the-garden role to the hilt, and when given a chance it's working like a charm.
This plot's climactic scene, clearly, comes when Solbor figures out the truth and exposes Dukat's true identity to Winn. There are a few small questions lurking in my mind here and there (such as how Solbor got any of Dukat's DNA in the first place, and even more particularly why Dukat would bother taking the name of a dead man rather than simply inventing a past out of whole cloth), but it was inevitable that Dukat would be found out eventually, and Solbor was a logical choice of person to do so, as he's spent the most time with Dukat out of anyone except Winn herself. (James Otis also gets a great speech out of it.) Winn's reaction is equally sensible: sheer, unadulterated shock. As Solbor's accusations get ever more pointed, her eyes widen, her face gets paler ... she even covers her mouth with her hand for a moment, something which the ever-so-composed Winn would never do ordinarily. Although she ends up killing Solbor in a moment of panic, it's clear that all is not well between these two former lovers. I'm quite interested to see what happens now that they've deciphered the book and are ready to free the Pagh Wraiths. (As an aside, however, the direction of Solbor's actual murder seemed a bit off. The overall sense of the scene was fine, but something about Winn's approach, a cut to the knife, and a cut back to Solbor screaming didn't work this time around.)
Meanwhile, back on the station, the trend of the last several shows have continued: the villains of the piece are far more compelling viewing than the heroes. (That's true in a lot of shows; as another genre example, think of virtually any Londo/Morden scene in B5 as opposed to a Sheridan/Delenn conversation. For virtually any pairing, the former scene is probably more memorable.) In particular, most of the scenes on board DS9 itself this week seem to be doing little more than marking time. Although we no longer have endless scenes of Worf and Ezri bickering, we instead get Bashir and O'Brien playing with their toys (er ... their Alamo model) while Ezri wonders if her feelings for Bashir are real. Sisko and Kasidy have a bit of a spat over her cargo runs into dangerous territory, but Sisko eventually admits he's wrong and lets her go (just in time to get a dangerous mission of his own, naturally). None of this was particularly bad, but there was no real "spark" to any of it; even Sisko and Kasidy, who have done so well for themselves in the past few weeks, felt as though they were treading well-rehearsed territory rather than actually having a serious fight.
Two events bracketing the stories on the station added substantially to the show, however. One of them was the Breen's abrupt attack on Starfleet Headquarters itself. Although it's unclear how severe the actual damage was, Weyoun is absolutely right in this case: the symbolic, propaganda effect is bound to be severe. (It may well have had that effect on the viewer; I know I felt a bit of a pang seeing the Golden Gate Bridge in ruins.) Sisko and Martok's dialogue after the attack didn't do much for me ("the Breen can't be unstoppable, everyone has to have a weakness, blah blah blah" pretty much sums it up), but the event itself was interesting.
Far more interesting, however, was the Breen counterattack on Chintaka, a Cardassian system that's been in Federation hands ever since "Tears of the Prophets" last season. Yet again, the tide seems to be turning against the Federation, and yet again there's a major battle in the offing. This time, however, the outcome is different: not only is everyone somewhat demoralized, but the Defiant, a ship we've seen in action (both as pummeler and pummelee) for five years, is destroyed in a quick and decisive attack by the Breen.
There are no quick escapes this time. No sacrifices for a greater goal, a la "turning death into a fighting chance to live" in "Star Trek III". No alternate universes or duplicated ships a la "Yesterday's Enterprise" or VOY's "Deadlock". This time, the one true Defiant goes into battle, and doesn't come out. It's not even close; they get off one good shot, then find their second one doesn't take. A Breen weapon drains their power dry, and they barely manage to get to the escape pods before the entire ship goes boom.
Admittedly, I was spoiled a few days in advance about the destruction of the Defiant thanks to some unprotected spoilers (otherwise translated as "blithering idiots") online, but in this case I don't think it particularly detracted from the power of the scene. Even earlier, when we got a much longer-than-usual "prepare for departure" scene, I think I would have wondered if we were lingering on the preparations because we'd never see them again. The direction there, and the extended sequence of head shots right before the Defiant headed into battle, suggested pretty well that this wasn't going to be a Standard Trek Battle [TM] -- and as it happens, it wasn't. Even the fact that the escape pods were allowed to escape (by Founder order, which probably wasn't very bright) wasn't likely to help Sisko's mood; he's just lost his ship, and it's clear that the Federation is currently outgunned.
Naturally, then, that means it's time for a ray of hope to shine through from another quarter. We see exactly that, with the ray in question named Legate Damar. Damar may not have had quite the dramatic tour de force this time around that he did last week, but almost everything about this plot seemed pretty solid.
One does have to suspend disbelief just enough, though, to assume that Damar's quarters aren't bugged, or at least that Damar knows how to beat the surveillance. After all, when Gul Rosot comes in and the two talk of their plans for sedition, they're being pretty brazen. Still, as Damar says, overconfidence has always been a hallmark of the Weyouns, as has not seeing the enemy standing right in front of you. Given how distracted the Founders are and how much emphasis the Dominion must be placing on the Breen and the war, I can believe that Damar's defiance would be able to slip through the cracks for a short time, and that's about all that was needed here.
In any case, we see Damar getting his confidence back gradually over the course of the episode, beginning with his guarded observation to the Breen that they are now the fair-helmeted boys of the Dominion much as the Cardassians used to be, and moving up to his official break with the Dominion and a call for open resistance.
One of the best scenes here, not surprisingly, involved Damar and Weyoun. Weyoun notices Damar's newly-regained confidence fairly quickly (though he first notices the lack of a bottle in Damar's hand), but as is so typical of Weyoun jumps to the wrong conclusion. He believes that Damar's turnaround has come because of the successful Dominion assault on the Federation, not because of Damar's own plans for rebellion -- and half a dozen episodes ago, he might have been right. This time, though, Damar plays along with Weyoun, as mellow as can be, knowing that before long Weyoun will be realizing and regretting his assumptions. Entertaining stuff here.
Interesting in a different sense is Damar's initial conversation with Gul Rosot. While the overall sense of it -- a realization that Cardassia is "occupied territory," and that Cardassians are no longer masters of their own fate -- is fine, the interesting part is Damar's quietly stated insistence that "we will be fighting to win back our homes and our freedom, and that will make us even stronger." True sentiments? Undoubtedly -- but they're sentiments we could have heard from any Bajoran, particularly Kira, less than a decade earlier. The roles have shifted, but the beliefs are constant -- and that's always a fun parallelism to see. (Given that next week it appears we'll have Damar and Kira meet, I suspect that parallel was made very intentionally.)
Lastly, there's Damar's speech to Cardassia which gets everyone in a tizzy. I've heard it said many times that Damar doesn't have the same personal charisma about him that Dukat does, and I think that's true. In some ways, however, that makes this speech even more interesting. It's natural when a born speechmaker says something stirring and exhorts you to follow him or her -- one even expects it. When someone who usually functions in a much more workmanlike manner makes an earnest plea, however, it's so out of the ordinary that you might be more likely to take notice. His plain-spoken call to "Resist. Resist today. Resist tomorrow. Resist until the last Dominion soldier has been driven from our soil!" was actually worth a cheer or two.
So, as matters stand now: things are looking bad for the Federation (and Sisko personally) in a lot of respects, Bajor is about to undergo a major religious crisis, and the Dominion is beset with internal strife. Just another day at the office. :-) Seriously, I hope things can keep moving equally well over the next few weeks. If the regulars can get more worthwhile material (particularly O'Brien, Bashir, and Odo), I'll be happier still.
-- A few other problems with Solbor's discovery. First, he was less than brilliant in running in and confronting them on his own rather than talking to a Vedek or two, though that's plausible given his character. Second, I find it hard to believe that he "analyzed the DNA" of Dukat completely on his own; someone should have knowledge that lives on past Solbor's death.
-- It seems that whenever anyone wants to blow up a Defiant-class ship, they give it to Mike Vejar. He also directed last season's "Valiant," which had a scene of equal carnage.
-- If anyone thought John Vickery (Gul Rosot) sounded familiar, they're probably right: although he showed up on TNG's "Night Terrors" long ago, he's probably better remembered as Neroon and as "Mr. Wells" on B5. Powerful voice, that one. (Vejar has directed him as Neroon, too.)
-- Yet another element of contrived mystery for the Breen: this time, it turns out they don't actually need those refrigeration suits. Let me guess: they're really angelic beings of light? Come on, folks...
-- Actually, I'd love to see that the Breen look totally plebeian under their suits; I'm hoping to see one get unmasked and revealed as, oh, George Takei annoyed at having missed out on "Trials and Tribble-ations." :-)
-- Martok: "Every species has its weakness. They're no exception." Lisa: "S'mores. They can't get enough of 'em." :-)
-- Since when does Weyoun call Thot Gor "General"?
-- The shot of the dying Defiant was absolutely beautiful, particularly the way we cut away from it on one face and then saw the other swivel into view.
-- I happened to be on set one afternoon during the filming of "When It Rains..." (next week's show). While there, I saw a substantial Bajoran cavern set, which reminded me a lot of where Sisko found B'Hala. Given the events of this week, I'd be willing to bet that someone's making a little excursion to the fire-caves...
-- On the same visit, I saw the Defiant bridge set, looking awfully banged-up. I figured that the set hadn't been cleaned up yet after a battle scene; I was right, but hadn't realized that the battle in question was the death of the Defiant. Eek. (On the other hand, this means I may have been one of the last few people to sit in Sisko's chair, and that's just cool. :-) )
-- Having the first target of the Cardassian counteroffensive be the cloning facilities where Weyouns are made just strikes me as delicious plotting on Damar's part.
That should pretty much wrap that up. As we head into the homestretch, we've had five straight episodes that have all been fairly good -- not all stellar, mind you, but all quite decent. Here's hoping for similar luck on the last five!
Writing: Dull station antics, but good work with just about everything else.
Directing: Solbor's death was a bit off; the rest was gripping, as is common with Vejar.
Acting: No complaints.
OVERALL: 9. Let's keep it up...
Kira finds herself training the unlikeliest of recruits.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"Instead of the invaders, we have become the invaded. Our allies have conquered us without firing a single shot. Well ... no longer."