WARNING: With DS9 spoilers for "The Dogs of War" nipping at your heels, I suggest you move on if you don't want spoiler information.

In brief: Somewhat disjointed; some stories are terrific, others are uneven.

Brief summary: Damar's rebellion takes an unexpected turn, Quark receives a surprising bit of news from Grand Nagus Zek, Bashir and Ezri confront their feelings, and Kasidy Yates hands Sisko another surprise.

Even if I hadn't already known that DS9 was coming to a close soon, the last few weeks would have made it pretty obvious. First Damar leads a rebellion against the Dominion, then Martok rises to the Chancellorship in the Klingon Empire, and now there's a power shift on Ferenginar. It's perhaps a little convenient that all of this is happening at once, but we've been getting an overwhelming sense of ending of late.

I do have to regret spending nearly half an episode right before the series finale wrapping up as unappealing a set of characters as Zek, Brunt, Ishka and the like, however. Given that they've been characters of long standing (Zek, after all, has been around since DS9's first season), it certainly makes sense to visit them here -- at least, more than it did heading back to DaiMon Bok in TNG's final few episodes. However, with Ishka's last appearance in the terrible "Profit and Lace" and Zek's in the only marginally better "The Emperor's New Cloak," I can't say these are characters I'm particularly interested in seeing again. (This is probably coming as a surprise to absolutely no one so far, considering my previous statements about heavy-Ferengi shows.)

Given that, it's perhaps notable that I found the Quark-centered parts of the show, while tiresome, at least substantially less annoying than usual. It could be that Rene Echevarria and Ron Moore realized that one of the more teeth-grating portions of "Profit and Lace" (apart from the entire premise) was the endless parade of screeching dialogue passing for character conflict between Quark and Ishka. Whether that was their assessment or not, they wisely kept the two characters separated for all but one scene, and even that one was in a large enough group that the histrionics were kept to something of a minimum.

Mostly, however, the Quark-centered parts of the show were fairly tedious. First he's told he's going to be the new Nagus. Seems I've heard that one before. Then he finds out that Zek has instituted massive new reforms on Ferenginar, and he's convinced that all of Ferengi society is going astray. "Profit and Lace," anyone? He eventually decides that if he's going to be Nagus, Zek has to let him do things "his way," and confronts Zek on it when he arrives -- oh, but wait. The message Zek originally sent was so static-ridden that Zek thought he was talking to Rom, not Quark -- and it's Rom who's going to be the "kinder, gentler Nagus" for this new era. Okay, so that part isn't well-treaded by DS9, but how many episodes of, say, "Three's Company" (or, more recently, "Friends," at least given ads I keep seeing) revolved around something being misheard or misinterpreted? As usual, we have the Ferengi being shown as a parody of current American society (with Quark playing the Rush Limbaugh commentator role); as usual, it's not a biting enough parody to be remotely interesting; and as usual, to make up for that lack of interest we get a few scantily-clad Dabo girls lounging around. Move along, folks: nothing to see here.

That said, there were a few moments in the Quark story which rose above their usual level. Among other things, while the idea of putting Rom in charge of Ferenginar seems absurd, I'm glad that for once there was a fundamental change, unlike virtually any Ferengi-centered show we've seen before. (Max Grodenchik also fared better than usual, particularly after he's named Nagus. He seemed positively tender towards Quark without being cloying, which he hasn't always pulled off that well before. Kudos there.) Brunt was also far less annoying than usual, in part because he was played as pathetic here rather than someone we're actually supposed to be worried about. All in all, however, I could have done without this particular bit of closure.

Moving on, the Kira-centered pieces of "The Dogs of War" fared far, far better. As someone recently pointed out to me in e-mail, I wrote almost six years ago after DS9's first season that Kira's path might eventually take her to Cardassia if the irony level was right -- and now, here she is. (Yes, I know she's been to Cardassia before, but as a captive -- this time she's going voluntarily.) As is keeping with Damar's entire rebellion, however, nothing quite goes according to plan.

Damar, Garak and Kira beam down to meet with a Gul planning to go over to Damar's side; however, they quickly find that said Gul has betrayed them all. All of the other conspirators are rounded up and shot, and Damar's ship is destroyed in orbit. With nowhere else to turn, the three wind up in the house Garak grew up in, with Enabran Tain's housekeeper Mila still there and willing to help.

Now, I do wonder why Gul Rovok didn't wait to have the Jem'Hadar attack until after Damar had made his presence known; that way he could have been assured that Damar was captured as well. (Don't tell me that he secretly sympathized and let Damar get away; given his other actions, that's somewhat far-fetched.) However, the destruction of Damar's organized revolution isn't really the point: the episode deals with the aftermath.

At first, Damar is devastated by his rebellion's defeat, particularly when word filters in that all eighteen of his bases have been found and destroyed. All of that changes, however, when Mila comes back with news she's picked up on the street: the people are refusing to believe that Damar is really dead. As details come in, Kira starts wondering if even this small rebellion has turned Damar into a legend -- if that's the case, she realizes, then he may be able to carry on the rebellion on the streets of Cardassia itself. Damar jumps at the chance, and after successfully bombing a nearby Jem'Hadar barracks he begins rallying the people into a fighting force.

The idea behind "rebellion goes from an organized military one to a grass-roots one" may not be all that original, but the execution of it was worth the effort. It was nice to see that Kira's tactical suggestions don't always pan out, and to see Damar rise to yet another occasion by giving a speech that would have been truly beyond him two years or even two months ago. (It was somewhat melodramatic, perhaps, but in a situation like that I think melodrama is quite definitely called for.)

The other primary (tertiary, perhaps?) plot of the episode finally wraps up the Bashir/Ezri romance issue. They finally decide to talk, concede they're interested, decide that it's not worth risking their friendship, and decide just to stay friends. Naturally this means that the next time they see each other, they wind up seriously smooching in an elevator. It's nice to see the two of them finally get together, but the punches have been telegraphed so far in advance that there wasn't much impact here.

A lot of the remainder of "The Dogs of War" consisted of snippets which are, I'm assuming, setting up for the series finale next week. While I'm curious about how they turn out, it's a little frustrating to see what almost resembles an extended preview more than a story in and of itself.

Those various snippets are, in some sort of order:

-- Sisko gets another ship, the USS Sao Paulo, which by special dispensation is renamed the Defiant. It was definitely a bit of a thrill to see a new ship pop up, but if it's exactly the same as the old one, what exactly was the point of destroying the Defiant back in "The Changing Face of Evil"? (If it's just to show what a big bad menace the Breen represent, then you need to leave the ship dead.)

-- Bashir releases Odo back to duty, but not before telling him that Section 31 was behind the disease which infected him and thus his people. I truly hope we get more with this next week, because Odo's reactions and particularly the following Odo/Sisko conversation were absolutely top-notch, full of the shades of gray and moral debates that really help flesh out a universe. Nobody's condoning what Section 31 did, Sisko protests -- but now that it's done, the Federation Council isn't about to hand over the cure to a current enemy. "Interesting," responds Odo. "The Federation claims to abhor Section 31's tactics, but when they need the dirty work done they look the other way. Tidy little arrangement, isn't it?" I still say Ross needs a comeuppance next week -- if he doesn't get one, I'll be somewhat irked.

-- The Dominion pulls back into Cardassian territory given the Federation's successful countermeasure to the Breen energy siphon. (Unfortunately, all we get to do is hear about it: we've no evidence for ourselves that it works, and no real sense of how much this evens the odds. Aren't there a lot of Breen ships, even without the siphon?) They hope that the Federation will act cautiously and give them time to rebuild -- but the Federation/Romulan/Klingon alliance decides to move forward and attack, pressing the advantage while they can.

-- Kasidy Yates returns to the screen, and tells Sisko that she's pregnant. He's surprised but ecstatic; she's happy, but terrified that the Prophets' reference to "nothing but sorrow" has something to do with their child. Sisko consoles her, pointing out that as the Emissary, he is promising that nothing will go wrong with this baby. Famous last words, I suspect...

So, a lot happened here -- but unlike other densely-plotted shows such as "The Changing Face of Evil" or "Tacking With the Wind," this one feels a little empty to me. Some of that's undoubtedly because Quark's story, which took up so much screen time, did nothing for me -- but the other factor is that so many things were nothing but obvious setup. At this point, next week we need to address the fate of the war, the fate of Sisko's child (the unborn one, not the mysteriously missing Jake), Damar's rebellion, the Pah Wraiths, the Prophets' plan for Sisko, Winn and Dukat (also missing far too much over the last few weeks), the Founders' disease, and the cancer within the Federation. That's a hell of a lot to do in two hours, and we've spent so much time on setup that I'm a little concerned the payoff will wind up being too rushed. (I'm particularly concerned given that I know Vic Fontaine is showing up in the finale. With so many things we do need to cover, why another stop into Vic's?) We'll see in a week, I suppose.

Other thoughts:

-- I'm a little puzzled about Sisko's baby. Kasidy says that "one of us forgot to take his injection this month," -- but if they're both getting contraceptive injections, shouldn't they both need to "forget" in order for a pregnancy to happen? That much is true now in the late 20th century; I can't imagine it's changed by the late 24th.

-- In case anyone missed it, Quark has a really obvious Picard riff when he's ranting at Rom about the Nagus's reforms. "The line has to be drawn he-yahh," and so forth. I can't say as I was thrilled to see it.

-- On the other hand, Echevarria and Moore may have sneaked in a really subtle reference to Armin Shimerman's past. In one of his final speeches, Quark says that his bar will be "the last outpost of what made Ferenginar great!" Those with long memories may remember that Shimerman played the very first Ferengi we ever saw, in TNG's first-season episode entitled "The Last Outpost." It could be accidental, but I'm not betting on it.

-- No Alamo references for the first time in a very long while.

-- It's interesting to see Mila (Tain's housekeeper again). Ever since it was revealed that Tain was Garak's father, people have been speculating that Mila was his mother -- I wonder if we'll find something out about that either way next week.

-- When Garak was stopped outside the Jem'Hadar barracks with the clock ticking down on a bomb, I wondered if Garak was finally going to bite the dust. He's escaped so far, but I see it as very possible that he won't survive the rest of the rebellion. (Of course, given the twists we've had in both the Klingon and Ferengi successions, it could be that Damar will be killed and Garak will wind up leading Cardassia, but somehow I can't see it.)

-- My spoiler-free predictions about who will not survive next week: Weyoun, Winn, probably Dukat, probably the female Changeling, almost certainly Kasidy, maybe Admiral Ross, and possibly Garak. (I don't expect any "front-credits" characters to cash it in; much as it might dramatically make sense, I can't picture that big a merchandising risk.)

That about covers it. The last two weeks (especially "Extreme Measures") have been somewhat disappointing compared to the rest of this final run-up, but with so much long-term material to pay off I'm feeling very hopeful about the finale. Time will tell; it always does.

Wrapping up for the next-to-last time, then:

Writing: Ferenginar politics got tired about four years ago; Cardassian politics almost never do. Some nice closure to a couple of elements, as well.
Directing: Brooks' swan song, and it came off all right. I particularly liked the close-ups on Odo and Sisko during their confrontation.
Acting: Wallace Shawn and Cecily Adams did nothing for me; the rest of the Ferengi plot was harmless, and I've no qualms about anyone else.

OVERALL: 6, at least for now. It'll depend a lot on what happens...

NEXT WEEK: The end.

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) <*>
"The reality is, the Federation set out to destroy my people."
"Section 31 aren't part of the Federation -- they're a rogue organiz-"
"Don't split hairs with me, Doctor."
-- Odo and Bashir

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