The station prepares to welcome Cardassian scientists who will open a communications link to the Gamma Quadrant. While Sisko and Quark are hopeful, Downer Dax raises doubts about the technobabble, and points out Quark’s bottles of Cardassian booze have 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 seems to find his interpretation credible enough to consider, even though the prophecy mentions “three vipers” but there are only two Cardassian scientists. 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 scientists are nervous during their formal first meeting with Sisko and Kira, 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.
At an infodump meeting, Downer Dax brings up her technobabble complaint, and a grumpy O’Brien dismisses Ulna’s response, saying “We tried something similar about a year ago.” This provokes the ire of the junior Cardassian scientist, Gilora, but the meeting ends well. When Ulani shares the news that a third team member will be arriving shortly, Kira finds Yarka’s interpretation of the prophecy (which mentions “three vipers”) more credible.
Odo tells Sisko he’s learned Yarka was defrocked for protesting the peace treaty with Cardassia; Sisko reasons Yarka may be trying to disrupt the communications project. Sisko seems pretty confident, and bristles slightly when Odo diplomatically suggests Sisko’s discomfort with the role Bajorans feel he plays in their spiritual life.
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.
We get a scene in which Yarka pressures Kira to use her influence over Sisko to get him to do what he (and, to a growing extent, she) feels the prophets would want him to do.
Dax is bonding happily with the Cardassian scientists, but things get chilly when Quark introduces the third party, Dejar. We see some glances and barbed comments that position Dejar as a threat to the other two.
Gilora is shocked that Federation engineering codes requires multiple backups, and O’Brien is annoyed that she’s questioning his 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 quite cleverly interprets the situation from the Federation perspective, for his benefit.
The wormhole aliens are, we already know, non-temporal beings who would know what they are about to witness. Given that, 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 against her impatient disrespect, we get a plot twist I hadn’t expected: Gilora is not being an arrogant 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 stands up to her, it’s a nice bit of inversion that makes even the preachiest Trek social messages really enjoyable.
On the Defiant, the technobabble is flowing like yamok sauce, when plot contrivance particles partially flabbergast the wormhole, creating a techno-blah-blah that alters the comet’s course. This is no ordinary comet, but a special comet, full of lovely 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 more 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. As Kira sees Sisko leaning into his spiritual role, Sisko sees a perfectly rational explanation that not only accounts for but 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.