In a runabout, O’Brien sets a course for the Parada system, starts a personal log carefully designed to tease the viewer, and flashes back to when it all started — the morning after he returned from a mission to Parada. He wakes to find Keiko is up very early, and Molly won’t kiss him good morning. Keiko gives weak explanations for these and other minor things that trouble O’Brien.
He finds an underling has already started on a big project setting up security for upcoming peace talks, saying he’s acting on Sisko’s orders. On his way to talk this over with the boss, O’Brien spots Keiko and Sisko talking together conspiratorially.
Back in the framing narrative, O’Brien learns another runabout is pursuing his.
As we return to the flashback, O’Brien narrates that the others might well have been planning a surprise party. On his way to speak to the commander, he dodges Bashir’s request to report to the infirmary for a routine physical. Sisko admits he should have consulted with O’Brien before rearranging his work schedule, but then pulls him off the peace talks security project, telling him instead all three upper pylons are offline. When O’Brien asks what Sisko and Keiko were talking about, Sisko says they were discussing problems with Jake’s grades.
O’Brien is cranky after what he says has been an unusually intrusive physical. There are a few good character bits, but the scene keeps going. Bashir even asks O’Brien about his sex life with Keiko, and seems to have forgotten that O’Brien told him his mother died two years ago.
As soon as the suspicion dawns on O’Brien that everyone must be acting strange because there’s something medically wrong with him, Bashir pronounces him fit and releases him. On the Promenade, Jake asks O’Brien for homework help. O’Brien mentions helping him keep his grades up, but Jake cheerfully says his grades are fine.
O’Brien finds he’s been locked out of the security system by Major Kira. When Kira sees Jake chatting again with O’Brien, she sends the boy away. More small things start adding up, but that night at dinner when O’Brien kisses Kekio and she does not respond, something snaps in O’Brien. “All I could think of, as I looked at her,” he tells us in voice-over, “was that this was not my Keiko.”
The tension starts to ramp up, and the setting feels claustrophobic. Every scene is from O’Brien’s point of view, so we never get any outside perspective to hint what’s going on. O’Brien realizes he’s being watched, and though he’s supposed to have., top-level security clearance, he’s locked out of certain files.
When Odo returns to the station, O’Brien tells him he thinks everyone but Jake is untrustworthy. Odo is cautious as usual but promises to investigate.
O’Brien fits himself with some kind of gadget, and visits Quark’s, where he refuses divulge any details about the Paradas. Odo is also curious, asking questions about the Paradan rebels, and it dawns on O’Brien deduces that “They got to you.”
When Sisko, Kira and Bashir suddenly appear, the latter armed with a hypospray, O’Brien makes a break for it, playing cat and mouse with the security forces.
After escaping on board a runabout, O’Brien contacts a Starfleet admiral, warning her of a conspiracy or takeover situation on DS9. Her response is not what at all what we expected.
We catch up to the framing story with O’Brien still on the run, and we see just how resourceful the chief can be. More tactical fun with the runabouts, a visit to a cave (again with the caves), a showdown, and a surprise.
This was a very clever way to tell a new story that makes use of the usual standing sets and the familiar cast of characters. Props to the writers for not even trying to justify the final plot twist. Once we’re informed the key to the mystery is a fairly common sci-fi trope, we get a few lines that hint at some context, but the finale saves room for a touching character moment.
The nerd websites say that this episode ran a bit short, so a scene was added where O’Brien taunts the his pursuers by singing “The Minstrel Boy” at them, invoking his romanticized wartime experiences (ST:TNG s4e12 “The Wounded“). But the dialogue, as scripted and filmed, mixed up the names of the two runabouts. Rather than re-shooting, they scrapped the scene.
I don’t remember watching this episode before, and enjoyed it quite a bit.