WARNING: This article contains spoilers for DS9's "The Die is Cast". Once past this point, spoilers are inevitable: cross not this Rubicon without awareness.
In brief: Not quite as good as the lead-in, but nearly so.
Brief summary: Garak, assisting in a Romulan/Cardassian attack on the Founders, is forced to torture Odo in an interrogation. Meanwhile, Sisko and company mount a rescue operation to locate and retrieve Odo, even in the face of a potential Dominion invasion.
"The Die Is Cast" is a story about betrayal -- from many people, of many people, and on many levels. As such, it's a relief to be able to start out by saying that I didn't feel betrayed by the way the show played itself out. Last week's "Improbable Cause" provided such a well-thought-out, well-built crisis that "The Die Is Cast" was in serious danger of not being able to live up to it -- and given Trek's past history of messing up resolutions to two-part stories ("The Siege" and "The Search, Part II" for DS9, not to mention "Birthright, Part II",
"Redemption", "Time's Arrow", "Descent", and probably others for TNG), I was more than a little nervous as the show began, and breathed sighs of relief every time a bullet was dodged. "The Die Is Cast" could have goofed in dozens of different ways -- fortunately, though, it managed to construct a plausible and well-executed resolution to "Improbable Cause" that didn't feel like a cop-out.
The biggest question lingering at the end of the first half of this story was how the Romulan/Cardassian attack would be dealt with. Two options -- either a sudden pulling-back from war, or a prolonged war -- seemed either unlikely or grossly unsatisfying, so something else had to be found. While the option taken, namely making the plot a trap laid by the Founders almost from the start , will undoubtedly prompt grumbling from those who wanted a full-fledged war, I think this route managed to resolve the story well, and also finally did something that DS9 hadn't done to me yet this season: make the Founders a convincingly dangerous adversary. Anyone capable of steering a plot against them into a turnabout of fortunes the way they did is someone against whom it will be difficult to plot against in the future -- and anyone difficult to plot against is the worst kind of foe. For the first time, I see at least some small value in making the Founders a race of Changelings, and that's not something easily done.
The one area that proved something of a disappointment, though not a huge one, was some of the character interplay on the Romulan ship between Garak, Odo, and Tain. While all the plotting revolving around the battle with the Founders was extremely well done, the Garak/Odo torture sequences somehow felt a little "detached" from the rest of the show, at least where I was concerned. They worked just fine on an intellectual level, in that I had no real difficulty understanding why Garak was behaving as he was (usually; more on that later); but for some reason, they didn't quite connect with me emotionally the way last week's Garak/Odo scenes did, for instance. This may just be because I was preoccupied with the plot and not the characters (a fairly rare circumstance); I'm not sure. (This also isn't to say that the main torture scene itself didn't work for me; it did, thanks mostly to Rene Auberjonois proving absolutely riveting.)
The only scene that made little sense to me was Garak's initial conversation with Odo, after he's first been assigned to interrogate Odo. Garak's early phrases there were so totally at odds with everything we know to be true (and with everything Odo and Garak know to be true) that I assumed Garak was somehow trying to let Odo know all was not well. Given that Garak did what he felt he had to do for Tain from that moment on, however, I'm at something of a loss to explain exactly what was going on then.
The Garak/Odo issue does, however, fit in nicely with the main theme of the show -- betrayal. I said last week that I expected some Caesar/Brutus parallels with Garak and Tain, given Garak's conversation with Bashir about "Julius Caesar" at the start of the show. Things didn't get quite that specific, in my opinion, but there were betrayals of everyone and everything almost anywhere one could care to look. There was talk of Garak having betrayed Tain in the past (though whether that's true is still uncertain, and likely always will be), of course; but there's quite a list of betrayals occurring in the course of the show, also. Garak betrays Odo by torturing him; he then betrays Tain by not conveying what information he does get; Sisko betrays Admiral Toddman by disobeying direct orders and heading for the Gamma Quadrant; Eddington betrays Sisko by sabotaging the cloaking device; Eddington betrays Toddman by not going any further; and Lovok proves an informant who destroys Tain's entire plan. (One might even start stretching things a bit and say that Kira betrays her trust in O'Brien by trying to go find him during the repairs, or that O'Brien betrays Bashir by not living up to Garak's level of riveting lunchtime conversation, but I don't think taking it that far is really necessary.) Of course there are no clear Caesar/Brutus parallels; everyone's too busy betraying everyone else
to find the time!
I had some initially bad reactions to Eddington's role during the episode. Not his betrayal of Sisko on Toddman's orders -- that made sense. No, the area I had a problem with at first was his presence on board the Defiant at all. Given that his initial appearance was due to a lack of trust in Odo, and given that he was very clearly acting on Admiral Toddman's behalf, I tend to question the wisdom of Sisko's willingness to bring him along. I'm more or less willing to overlook that; since Sisko called the mission a volunteer one, perhaps he presumed that anyone willing to come believed in what he was doing. I'm also impressed by the forthright way in which it was handled -- once the betrayal was done, Eddington made his part in it clear very quickly and honestly, and offered to help in any way unrelated to his actual orders from Toddman. I do, however, thinks it smacks of being just slightly artificial.
The other character who got a major workout was, of course, our friend Garak, and it was here that the torture sequences were effective. Not to show the lengths to which Garak was willing to go, I think -- those weren't surprising, given his avid interest in making it back home. Their effectiveness was in showing how much Garak had actually changed since his exile began, in that he was truly upset at what he had to do in order to carry out his mission. In fact, that scene proved almost too effective in demonstrating that point, in that I began to wonder at times how good an interrogator Garak used to be in "the old days". (To anyone else wondering the same thing, though, I'd point out that Garak has never been fond of the direct approach to anything, and that I could still easily envision even the current Garak carrying out the sort of torture Tain referred to with "his
eyes, his eyes...")
There were a few other intriguing issues swirling around Garak as well. The first was his friendship with Tain, which crumbled before Garak's eyes in the face of the Founders' onslaught. (And Paul Dooley was good in that scene; it was extremely painful to realize that there was no point in rescuing Tain, as he was already gone.) The second, somewhat hinted at in his final scene with Odo, concerns his future. At the moment, Garak is back in the tailor shop, much to his chagrin (even if, as he glumly notes, he's "really a very GOOD tailor") -- but the way ahead can go in almost any direction now. Since last season's "The Wire", much of Garak's past with the Obsidian Order has been impacting on his present. Those days, I'll wager, are now close to done; Tain is dead, along with many of his and Garak's associates. Aside from his lingering dislike of Dukat, Garak's life is now open to question -- and I'll be interested to see where it goes from this point on.
Lastly, a note on the visual presentation of the show. Last week, I noted that "Improbable Cause" was written by the writer of "The Mind's Eye", Rene Echevarria. Well, this half was directed by "The Mind's Eye"'s director, David Livingston, and had much of the same flair to it. I don't know if there were quite as many moments this week that stood out the way Odo's meeting with his source did last week, but there were several, most particularly the moment where Odo realizes he can't change form and the closing moments between Garak and Tain. And finally, the final battle sequence was simply one of Trek's best battle moments on the small screen -- so much so, in fact, that it appeared the Defiant had been kidnapped and replaced by
the Millennium Falcon. :-) (Of course, a friend of mine said it's simply because they had a real pilot flying the thing for a change...)
That should about do it. "The Die is Cast" wasn't quite the masterpiece that "Improbable Cause" was -- but when handed a setup this good, it's no small success just to avoid blowing it, and "The Die is Cast" went well beyond that. I'm convinced once more that DS9 can do an excellent job when it plays to its strengths; in the words of Sisko, "Don't make me change that policy."
So, some short takes:
-- Excellent work on the teaser. We're given no indication of precisely what's happened to Odo and Garak; all we know is that there's been no word, and then suddenly, whoosh, off goes an entire fleet waving back at DS9 on its way to the Founders. To say it managed to keep the interest level up would be a substantial understatement.
-- I find it amusing that Admiral Toddman was played by Leon Russom; Russom, if memory serves, also played the head of Starfleet Command in "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country". Do we have an entire dynasty of admirals over a century of time, or what? :-)
-- Although I doubt we'll ever hear what Garak allegedly did to betray Tain years ago, I do think we may someday find out what's between him and Gul Dukat, and I'd very much like to. Tain alluded to "the business with the arms merchants", and from his tone I doubt it was as recent as the Bajoran near-coup last season. What did happen between them?
-- One wonders how much of a force the Tal Shiar and the Obsidian Order will be within their respective empires at this point. I doubt they're entirely out of the picture, but I can't imagine they'd be the force they once were, either -- and if not, that suggests that we might see something of a loosening of restrictions within both Romulus and Cardassia. Interesting...
-- Similarly, I wonder if there are any copies of or records of the "quantum stasis" projector Garak used to torture Odo. If so, that could prove a significant weapon against the Founders at some future point.
That should do it. So, to end:
Writing: Excellent work keeping all the balls in the air properly in terms of plot; nearly as strong in terms of character.
Directing: No complaints, much praise.
Acting: Solid all around, as before.
OVERALL: A 9.5. I'm game for more.
Sisko turns solar sailor?
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"You know what the sad part is, Constable? I'm really a very GOOD tailor."