The station prepares to welcome Cardassian engineers. While Sisko and Quark are hopeful, Downer Dax doubts the technobabble, and also notes Quark’s Cardassian booze has spoiled.
The vedek Yarka warns Sisko that letting the Cardassians establish a relay link through the wormhole will fulfill an ancient prophecy that foretells doom. Kira finds his interpretation compelling, even though the prophecy mentions “three vipers” but there are only two Cardassians. Sisko is respectful but remains committed to the project. Yarka says he and his followers will pray for him to change his mind.
The two Cardassian engineers are nervous during upon arrival, but Sisko puts them at ease. Kira is taken aback by the leader Ulani’s expression of personal gratitude to the ranking Bajoran on the station.
In the infodump room, Downer Dax brings up her technobabble, and a grumpy O’Brien piles on, provoking the ire of the junior Cardassian scientist, Gilora. Still, the meeting ends well. When Ulani shares the news that a third team member will be arriving shortly, Kira is again drawn to Yarka’s “three vipers” prophecy.
Odo informs Sisko that Yarka was defrocked for protesting the peace treaty with Cardassia; Sisko reasons Yarka may disrupt the communications project, and bristles slightly when Odo diplomatically notes Sisko’s discomfort with the spiritual role the Bajorans feel he plays.
While few DS9 episodes rise to the heights of the greatest TNG episodes, DS9 was consistently strong, and on my rewatch I’ve been regularly impressed. This episode has Sisko as the poster child for Roddenberry’s humanist Federation utopia, but the outsider Odo, wise Dax, opportunistic Quark, and even (in his own subplot) everyman O’Brien all show us that there’s more than one way to look at a situation.
Actor Avery Brooks does a great job transforming from a self-confident “let’s all get along” Roddenberry-style mediator to a complex man wrestling with fate — a hint of the depth we saw in the series pilot, but which the writers have largely ignored since then.
Yarka plays the faith card on a receptive Kira, who feels torn by her faith and her loyalty to Sisko.
Dax is bonding happily with the Cardassian techies, but things get chilly when Quark introduces the third party, Dejar. Some glances and barbed comments establish the newcomer as a threat to the other two.
Gilora is shocked that Federation engineering codes requires so much redundancy, and challenges O’Brien’s jerry-rigging.
On the other side of the wormhole, the Defiant spots a comet that an increasingly awestruck Kira identifies as another detail mentioned in the prophecy. In private, Sisko asks her not to mention the prophecy on the bridge.
The writers are cleverly ramping up the tension by introducing several new conflicts, which makes it harder to predict the next plot twist.
Kira admits she believes Sisko is The Emissary mentioned in Bajoran prophecies, and for his benefit, quite cleverly interprets the situation from the Federation perspective.
The wormhole aliens are, we already know, non-temporal beings who would know what they are about to witness. Couldn’t they have inspired a monk thousands of years ago to write his own metaphorical version of their report, which has come down to them today in the form of an ancient mystic text? It’s a good speech, but it’s too early in the episode for Sisko to see things her way — so he doesn’t.
Back on the station, the sparring between Gilora and O’Brien seems to be interfering with their work; when O’Brien pushes back, we get a plot twist I hadn’t expected: Gilora is not being a racist Cardassian who thinks Humans are inferior, she’s just not used to talking about engineering with men, whom she says just don’t have head for the subject. (From what we’ve seen of the blustering Cardassian military leaders, we can totally believe her.) When O’Brien defends his expertise rather than bristle at her sexism, it’s a nice bit of inversion that makes even the preachiest Trek social messages really enjoyable.
On the Defiant, where technobabble flows like yamok sauce, plot contrivance particles partially flabbergast the wormhole, creating a techno-blah-de-blah that alters the comet’s course. This is no ordinary comet, but a special comet, full of *different* plot contrivance particles that threaten to irreparably flabbergast the wormhole. (And the tension-building countdown timer begins.)
The Defiant returns to DS9, where Dejar predicts the Cardaissian authorities will replace Ulani for her failure. We can’t just phaser the comet out of existence because reasons, but O’Brien has the brilliant idea to bypass the reasons with anti-reasons technobabble. Ulani, impressed by O’Brien’s insights, moves very close to him and compliments his hands, and the “get the tech done” action scene is interrupted by a hilariously awkward cross-cultural social comedy that made me LOL, but then the scene stops on a sad note — their personal understanding has disrupted their working relationship.
There are a few more plot twists; the one about Dejar is kind of predictable, though the payoff — Sisko and Kira in a shuttlepod riding the comet through the wormhole — was weird and joyful. Where Kira sees Sisko leaning into his spiritual role, Sisko sees a perfectly rational explanation that fulfills Kira’s faith.
Another plot twist features the shunned Gilora standing up for O’Brien when he’s wrongly accused of botching the technobabble; their B-plot ends with her giving him a heartfelt goodbye kiss on the cheek.
The final scene shows Sisko listening to Yarka teaching him about other prophecies, showing us that Sisko is no longer content to ignore his role as Emissary.