On a mineral survey of a planet that just happens to look like Southern California, O’Brien trades playful barbs with crewman Muniz.
Unlike most episodes where the leads have all the fun, this mission is fairly crawling with random crew we’ve never seen before.
An unidentified ship appears randomly and crashes within sight of the landing party, which certainly speeds the plot along.
It’s a Jem’Hadar warship, now half-buried upside down in the ground. After O’Brien finds a way in, he takes a moment to mentor Muniz while waiting for the captain to arrive.
Inside we find the crew are long dead, smashed up due to an inertial damper failure.
Back on DS9, Odo has collared devious Quark and clueless Bashir for importing contraband, but Kira has no time for them because she’s headed out in the Defiant to tow the salvaged ship, but it will take her several days to get there.
Another Jem’Hadar ship appears and destroys the orbiting runabout, and ground forces decloak and kill an extra who has a name but no lines. That leaves us with Sisko, Dax, Worf, O’Brien, and a gut-shot Muniz.
An unctuously sincere female voice calls to Sisko by name and introduces herself as Kilana, “the Vorta in charge of the Jem’Hadar troops surrounding you.”
Because this is TV, the two parties agree to a face-to-face meeting. Kilana politely asks for her ship back, and is baffled at Sisko’s invocation of “salvage rights.” She offers him a tray of snacks and tries to chit-chat with him pointedly about Jake, says this is her first big mission and she doesn’t want to screw it up, and even offers them all safe passage back home if they’ll just give up the ship.
Meanwhile, we see that a Jem’Hadar warrior has sneaked aboard the ship. Something goes bump, O’Brien spots a gizmo that wasn’t there before, the invader attacks, Worf warns the captain, and Kilana beams away.
Dax is puzzled that the Jem’Haddar seem to have sent in only one invader, armed with just a knife. Sisko reasons there must be something valuable on the ship.
O’Brien tries to trade more friendly insults with Muniz, but Muniz can tell his chief is worried. Sisko has to order O’Brien to stay focused on his technical duties. Dax tries to encourage O’Brien, but Worf bluntly insists that Muniz won’t see tomorrow. Dax tries to defuse the tension, but O’Brien is ticked off at Worf.
An apparently apologetic Kilana arranges another TV-friendly meeting, this time saying she will let Sisko keep the ship as long as she can get what she wants out of it. Sisko declines, and the Jem’Haddar start shelling — but their goal is not to damage the ship, just to rattle its new owners.
Muniz has gone into shock and is starting to hallucinate. Tensions mount, O’Brien takes a swing at Worf, Dax mocks the tough guys who crack under pressure, and Space Dad Sisko gets them all back under control with a speech and a task.
Hours later, Sisko is ready to try firing up the engines and get the ship off the ground. Despite all the dramatic music, the effort fizzles, and during the commotion Muniz dies.
A distraught Sisko confides to Dax that he lost five people under his command and he wants to be able to tell their families why.
Something drips from the ceiling and a chunk of equipment starts oozing. It’s a Changeling that’s been hiding aboard the ship, and it’s dying.
Kilana beams in alone, saying her soldiers all committed suicide because they failed. She says she was sincere when she said he could have the ship — all she wanted was the Changeling. Sisko says he would have let her rescue the Changeling — all he wanted was the ship.
Kilana says she hopes Sisko feels the ship was worth it.
On the Defiant, Sisko broods over the cost. Dax reminds him they all took an oath to Starfleet, and they all understood the risks.
Sisko: That doesn’t make it any easier.
Dax: Maybe nothing should.
The final scene shows O’Brien in a cargo bay, telling stories to a capsule that must be Muniz’s coffin.
Worf enters, apologizes for intruding, and notes with approval that O’Brien is “performing ak’voh for your friend,” which is a Klingon custom of guarding the body of a fallen warrior to keep away predators until the spirit is ready to leave the body.
O’Brien declares it “a fine tradition,” and the episode ends with the two of them honoring the fallen Muniz together.
While I warmed up to the story, I found the premise weak. It’s so rare than anyone other than the recurring leads goes on a mission, so when we met so many randos, I figured most of them wouldn’t make it past the second act.
My Coleridegean willing-suspension-of-disbelief generator started glitching when the out-of-control Jem’Haddar ship just happened to crash close enough to the landing party that Sisko could see the dust cloud from the impact. There wasn’t even an attempt to lampshade that improbability. And wasn’t it convenient that the ship, which we saw streaking through the atmosphere and half-burying itself in the ground, was cool enough to walk on and touch right after the commercial break? Of course, because TV.
I had the feeling I had seen Muniz before, and a visit to the Trek nerd websites confirmed he was one of the tech nerds that Worf barked at when he was trying to command the Defiant from engineering, and he also appeared in the episode where O’Brien had to deal with the implanted memories of decades in a prison. This episode leaned in hard on the playful banter between O’Brien and Muniz, but because the other randos got killed off so early we never got a sense of Chief O’Brien as the leader of a whole gang of enlisted tech nerds — engineering nerds and security nerds and mineralogy nerds and plot contrivance particle nerds — who talk to each other this way all the time.
Of course, all that is the whole premise of Star Trek: Lower Decks. Back when these episodes first aired in the nineteen hundreds, Deep Space Nine was unusual for the amount of consistent world-building and the complexity of the ongoing story arcs. As a stand-alone story that fits into the ongoing Dominion War story arc, this episode was perfectly enjoyable.