Written by Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by Alexander Singer
Season 3, Episode 26
Production episode 40512-472
Original air date: June 19, 1995
Station log: Sisko records his final commander’s log, as he’s been promoted to captain. Jake gets to put the fourth pip on his uniform, and there’s a champagne toast. Also present is Ambassador Krajensky, who isn’t there for the celebration: there’s been a coup on the Tzenkethi homeworld, and the Defiant is to patrol the border for a few days, showing the flag.
O’Brien goes to work in the Defiant’s engine room, thinking he hears a strange noise, which isn’t at all ominous. Later, after the Defiant sets off for the Tzenkethi border, he hears another noise when he’s in a Jefferies Tube—but this time, apparently, it was Bashir, who was hooking up a power supply for a diagnostic table.
Sisko talks to Eddington in the wardroom, telling him that if hostilities break out, his job is to make sure Krajensky is safe—even though Krajensky won’t like being escorted off the bridge.
The Defiant gets a distress call from Barisa Prime, which is under attack. Sisko changes course for that world. But they can’t contact Starfleet Command or get backup from the Ulysses—due, as it turns out, to sabotage. Something that looks like a big straw is working its way through various key systems. The straw wasn’t there when O’Brien did a systems check when they departed, so the saboteur has to be on board.
Sisko announces to the senior staff that they found a straw in the warp plasma field, which means the saboteur will have been exposed to tetryon particles, which will leave a residue for a while. O’Brien fears that it’s Bashir after seeing him in the Jefferies Tube earlier, but he’s clean—however, he insists he was never in any Jefferies Tube. But then Dax scans Krajensky, who does have tetryon particles on him—
—at which point he transforms into a liquid state, widening to knock Kira and a couple of other people over, and escapes through the vents. The cloaking device activates, and the bridge controls are locked out. The Defiant is hurtling at warp toward Tzenkethi space with weapons armed and the cloak active and the crew can do nothing about it. Odo and Eddington lead a security sweep of the ship, but they find nothing. And there’s no sign of the real Krajensky or his remains—it’s likely that Krajensky never came to the station and the changeling engineered all of it to start a new Federation-Tzenkethi war.
Sisko orders nonessential personnel locked in their quarters behind force fields. No one is to travel alone. Bashir is to check tricorder readings of Krajensky—who read as human—to see if there’s some kind of anomaly they can use to detect the changeling.
After Eddington and Odo issue phasers to all security personnel (except Odo himself, who reiterates that he refuses to carry weapons), O’Brien calls security to engineering, where he found Dax alone and unconscious. This means they don’t have use of Dax to regain control of the ship.
Phaser rifles have been retuned to a wide beam that will affect the changeling but not affect equipment. Two-person teams are sent to check the ship. If anyone isn’t with a partner, that person is to be escorted to the brig. The teams search the corridors, the Jefferies Tubes, the cabins, everything. Sisko and a security guard are ambushed by the changeling, and Sisko pursues—only to find Kira and another security guard who were separated facing off against each other because neither is sure if the other is the changeling. The guard refuses to lower his weapon (Kira does), and Odo is forced to take him out, but doing so required him to be separated from Eddington for a minute, so now they don’t know who’s who.
But Odo notices that Sisko is bleeding, and the drops of the floor are still blood—when a piece of Odo is separated from the rest of him, it reverts to a gelatinous state. Now they have another detection technique, and Sisko summons Bashir to the mess hall to draw blood from everyone. If it stays as blood in the tube, the person isn’t a changeling.
When Eddington’s blood is drawn, it turns into changeling goo, at which point he’s brought to the brig. Eddington denies being a changeling—and while he does so, there’s a small explosion that opens a door behind which Bashir—the real one—is trapped. He’s trying to escape from being imprisoned by the changeling who has been disguised as Bashir (and who framed Eddington). The changeling again zips off into the vents, and this time Odo gives chase.
The Defiant enters Tzenkethi space, and is now heading straight for a Tzenkethi settlement that’s twelve minutes away. Sisko and Kira set the auto-destruct sequence for ten minutes, giving them that much time to locate the changeling. Also it turns out that Dax is fine, but the changeling pumped her full of sedatives while pretending to be Bashir.
O’Brien figures out how to shut down the changeling’s force fields, but it also takes down all the ship’s force fields, including the one protecting engineers from the radiation given off by the warp core (probably the same radiation that killed Spock...). Two Odos show up in engineering just before O’Brien takes down all the force fields. One Odo changes into a form that resembles Krajensky and attacks the security guard and O’Brien. They fight and Odo throws the changeling against the exposed warp core. O’Brien is able to regain control of the ship, and they bugger away from Tzenkethi space as fast as they can while disengaging the autodestruct.
It turns out that the real Krajensky was supposed to go on vacation on Risa, but never arrived. The Tzenkethi coup never actually happened. Odo also reveals that the changelings last words to him were that changeling infiltrators are everywhere.
The Sisko is of Bajor: Finally, after three years, the writing staff fixes a problem the series has had from its very conception: the lead character was not a captain. Pike was a captain, Kirk was a captain, Picard was a captain, hell even Decker and Spock (in the movies) were captains. There was no good reason for Sisko not to be a captain, made worse by his status as the first non-white character to lead a Trek cast.
This is also the last time we’ll see Sisko with hair. Also, he mentions his father, the first indication that said father is still alive after several references that implied that he had died.
The slug in your belly: Dax is viewed by the changeling as a threat to keeping control of the ship, and so takes her out quickly, then disguising as Bashir to keep her unconscious.
Preservation of matter and energy is for wimps: Odo admits to Eddington that he’s unable to put himself in the changeling’s head as the latter requests because he truly doesn’t understand his people. He chases the changeling through the vents the second time he runs away into the vents, which makes you wonder why he didn’t do it the first time. And he hits on the notion of using blood screenings, which will be seen a lot moving forward.
Rules of Acquisition: Bashir purchases real champagne—Chateau Client, 2303—from Quark, who serves it at Sisko’s promotion reception.
Victory is life: One changeling comes very very close to starting a war between the Tzenkethi and the Federation.
Tough little ship: We get to see more of the Defiant, including the Jefferies Tubes, engineering, and bunches of corridors. Also, thanks to the changeling, there is another use of the cloaking device in the Alpha Quadrant (after “Defiant” and possibly “Second Skin”).
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: Sisko wants to tell Yates in person that he’s been promoted, but she’s not coming back to the station for a month. Dax gets him to admit that he misses her, and also that he’s taking her to see Game 7 of the 1964 World Series in the holosuite, which Dax cites as proof that he really likes her.
Keep your ears open: “I think I may be able to shut down the changeling’s force fields and gain access to the sabotaged systems. The only problem is we may lose our force fields, too.”
“Auto-destruct in seven minutes.”
“Just tell me how long it will take.”
“Well, I guess it’ll have to be less than seven minutes, won’t it?”
“That’d be my suggestion. Sisko out.”
O’Brien telling Sisko how he can fix things, with the computer providing a tight deadline.
Welcome aboard: Kenneth Marshall is back as Eddington, and Lawrence Pressman—last seen as Tekeny Ghemor in “Second Skin”—returns this time as the changeling posing as Krajensky. Jeff Austin plays the paranoid Bolian security guard; he’ll return as Allos in Voyager’s “The Omega Directive.”
Trivial matters: In “The Search, Part II,” “Heart of Stone,” and “The Die is Cast,” Odo was told that no changeling has ever harmed another, a streak that ends with this episode. Odo will suffer the consequences of that action in the fourth-season finale “Broken Link.”
The original plan for this episode was to establish changeling infiltration on Earth, and do a season-spanning two-parter similar to those done on TNG. That basic storyline—which was also supposed to introduce Sisko’s father—was later used for the “Homefront”/“Paradise Lost” two-parter in the fourth season. Instead, this finale followed the same pattern as the previous two (and the next three, for that matter): a standalone story that sets up how the next season will begin.
This episode is the first mention of the Tzenkethi, though they are never seen on screen. In the novels, they are part of the Typhon Pact that formed in your humble rewatcher’s A Singular Destiny in response to the events of the Destiny trilogy by David Mack. Tzenkethi have appeared in my Articles of the Federation as well as several of the Typhon Pact stories, including Brinksmanship by Una McCormack, The Struggle Within by Christopher L. Bennett, and Rough Beasts of Empire, Plagues of Night, and Raise the Dawn, all by David R. George III.
Sisko fought in the last Tzenkethi-Federation War. It’ll be established in “Homefront” that he served on the Okinawa during that war as first officer under Captain Leyton. The aforementioned Rough Beasts of Empire has flashbacks to Sisko serving in that war in a timeframe prior to “Encounter at Farpoint.”
Game 7 of the 1964 World Series saw Bob Gibson—one of the greatest pitchers of all time—of the St. Louis Cardinals face off against Mel Stottlemyre and the New York Yankees. The Cardinals won 7-5. (Amusingly, both Ken Boyer and Clete Boyer, brothers who were on opposite sides, hit home runs in that game.) The Sisko family affinity for Gibson was seen back in “The Homecoming.”
This episode establishes that Bolian blood is blue.
The real Krajensky appears in an alternate timeline in your humble rewatcher’s Myriad Universes short novel A Gutted World (in Echoes and Refractions), where he’s given the first name of Theodore.
Walk with the Prophets: “You’re too late. We’re everywhere.” On the face of it, this is a decent episode. It’s tense, it’s well constructed, it’s a nice claustrophobic action piece, and so much of the texture of the show going forward—paranoia about the changelings, blood screenings, the Dominion “invading” the Alpha Quadrant not via Jem’Hadar attack but through divide-and-conquer tactics aided by changeling infiltration—is on display here.
In addition, we get the way way way way overdue promotion of Sisko to captain, with even the characters saying it’s about damn time (both O’Brien and Eddington get to mention that, in what feels like a serious rebuke to Rick Berman and Michael Piller for “demoting” the character in the show’s conception—as Eddington points out, nobody goes into Starfleet wanting to be a commander, or an admiral).
And yet, there’s a disappointingly empty feel to the episode. Part of it is Alexander Singer’s depressingly limp direction. Modern Trek has done fast-moving action before—“Power Play” and “Starship Mine” on TNG, “The Siege” and “The Die is Cast” on DS9 to name four particularly strong examples—but this episode doesn’t have enough intensity.
Part of it is also that the story just doesn’t make sense. Starfleet ships don’t get their assignments from the Diplomatic Corps, so why was Krajensky ordering Sisko around? Also if a ship of the line is being taken off its usual assignment (protecting DS9 and Bajor from the Jem’Hadar flying through the wormhole), then it’s something that will involve a lot of bureaucratic hoops to jump through, and verification of the orders with someone at Starfleet Command.
Plus, if there was a coup on the Tzenkethi homeworld, wouldn’t Sisko or Kira or Odo or O’Brien or Dax or somebody have heard about it from someone else besides Krajensky, and if they didn’t, wouldn’t that make them suspicious? Isn’t there a Federation News Service that would be reporting on this sort of thing? (There is, but it hasn’t been introduced yet. Still and all...)
What it boils down to is that Sisko took the Defiant and his entire senior staff away from its post solely on the verbal word of an ambassador without ever once checking with his superiors. That strains credulity well beyond the breaking point.
Then there’s the Tzenkethi themselves, about whom we’ve never heard before. Why is it necessary to pull yet another Alpha Quadrant power out of their asses when there are plenty of others that we’ve actually seen before, heard of, and will give an airborne intercourse about if we invade them? As it is, the threat of a war with the Tzenkethi is muted by the fact that we don’t have the first damn clue who or what the Tzenkethi are.
The storyline picks up nicely from “The Die is Cast.” In that episode, the Dominion managed to weaken the Cardassian Union and the Romulan Empire by giving a body blow to their intelligence-gathering networks (and in the case of the former, wiping out half the government), and now we see the next stage of that plan. I like the fact that the plan pretty much fails because of a niggling detail: the changeling didn’t know about tetryon particle residue. Without that, the crew isn’t on alert and the sabotage can work more subtly. I also love that Bashir was able to use the engineering extension courses that he goes on about (and that the changeling went on about when disguised as him) to get the door open so he can warn the others that he’s been replaced.
But that leads to another major issue with the episode, which is why the changeling left Dax and Bashir alive. There’s no reason to, especially since he was sending the Defiant on what would almost definitely become a suicide mission. The only reason to keep those two characters alive is because they are in the opening credits, and that’s a failure of scriptwriting, made worse by the fact that the changeling does kill (or at least maim) a security guard (it’s hard to tell because nobody seems to give much of a shit about the poor bastard, not even Sisko who never even says there’s a guard down when he calls in the changeling sighting).
This is the first time DS9 has ended its season on a disappointing note, though it’s not the first time an episode has been important in what it establishes without actually being any good...
Warp factor rating: 5