This is a fabulous start to what is perhaps the series' strongest multi-episode arc.
Memory Alpha has a summary here.
The Starfleet plot is all well and good, but what really draws my attention in this episode is what happens back on the station. Number one, I love how the writers develop the conflict between Weyoun and Dukat. As Kira notes, Dukat really is out for revenge (and national glory), so his default position is to screw the Bajorans in every way possible. Weyoun, meanwhile, is thinking in the long range; apparently, he's quite the student of history, and thus he knows that putting on a cooperative facade is likely to bring the naive and trusting sorts to his side. And then there's Weyoun's genetic code to consider. He's not going to do anything to piss off Odo.
Of course, Weyoun is clever enough to parlay his biological instincts to his own advantage. And that sets up a very interesting dilemma for Odo. On the one hand, serving on the station's ruling council could put Odo in a position to defend the Bajorans from the Cardassians' ambitions. On the other hand, serving on the council also lends Weyoun's occupation legitimacy -- and as we'll see, it also leaves Odo himself vulnerable to the Founders' influence. It's no wonder that Kira is distinctly wary of the whole idea.
Speaking of Kira, I also enjoy her scenes with Odo immensely. Not only do such scenes make Kira's personal restlessness tangible for the viewer, but they also show how her relationship with Odo has deepened in the last three months. This is definitely one way I like my O/K to be written -- with the two of them commiserating over their shared unease.
But believe it or not, I haven't even touched on the very best scene of the episode yet. In my opinion, there is one scene here that is a thing of sheer brilliance from start to finish, and it is The Scene Between Kira and Dukat -- and I capitalize that because that's my convention whenever a scene displays a certain level of creative mastery. I'm going to steal Tim Lynch's line here and say that I spend that entire scene on the edge of my seat primarily because my skin has crawled there on its own. Even though Kira handles Dukat's slimeball arrogance with her usual wit and belligerence (you have to laugh, for example, when she slams Dukat's breath), you still sense that current of fear underneath. The power differential is extraordinarily acute in that moment, and you find yourself worrying that Dukat might actually go that far to get what he wants.
My co-author says it all above regarding Kira and Odo and their uncomfortable position on the station, but there are uncomfortable positions all around - which, I suppose, is the theme of this episode. Garak is a fish out of water helping people he's been trained to despise. Bashir has a grimly firm grasp on the odds of Federation success and is not afraid to let the crew know it, Sisko has to explain to his father at home how he managed to leave Jake in occupied territory and why this war is necessary in the first place - not to mention being taken off the bridge of the Defiant to head up the strategy team (we all know that Sisko isn't comfortable unless he's beating the crap out of and/or killing some bad guys)...oh...and on the station, Jake is walking a fine line of his own. He wants to get information to the Federation, but he doesn't want to be a shill for the Dominion and he won't write propaganda to be heard.
So what we have here is a big ole SQUICK from everyone in the story except Dukat (who enjoys his role entirely too much) and Weyoun (who has a strange sense of fun for political gamesmanship). Not that the war will be any more fun even when people are back in their familiar roles or anything...but right now, it's taking a horrible toll in terms of manpower AND the psyches of our heroes...and that is keenly felt in this script. That is the greatest strength of this season-opening six-parter...the grim brutality of this war is told in a dozen different ways...all imminently real.
Writing: 9.5 / 9.0
As SABR Matt notes, this script does an excellent job when it comes to putting Our Heroes in uncomfortable positions -- and that makes for compelling viewing.
Acting: 9.5 / 10.0
There are also very few flaws - if any - in the performances.
Message: 8.5 / 8.5
More powerful themes arise in next week's SLAM DUNK UBER-FEATURE, but what's here is still interesting. For example, the writers highlight the challenge (perhaps folly) of setting up a news service in enemy territory. And they nicely illustrate the tensions inherent in maintaining neutrality in the midst of a quadrant-wide conflagration.
GARAK: Ever since it's become public knowledge that you're genetically engineered, you've used every opportunity to show off.
BASHIR: I have nothing to hide anymore. I might as well use what I have.
GARAK: Well, what are our chances? Over fifty percent?
BASHIR: Thirty-two point seven.
GARAK: I'm sorry I asked. You're certain about that figure?
BASHIR: Do you want me to take you through the entire set of calculations?
GARAK: Not really. Genetically engineered, indeed.
BASHIR: Excuse me?
GARAK: Well look at you. You act as if you haven't a care in the world. It's exactly that kind of smug, superior attitude that makes people like you so unpopular.
BASHIR: Are you trying to insult me?
GARAK: A thirty-two point seven percent chance of survival? I call that insulting.
BASHIR: Don't take it so personally, Garak. It's strictly a matter of mathematics.
GARAK: No, it's strictly a matter of our lives.
DAX: What is it, Worf? What's wrong?
WORF: It is about our wedding.
DAX: You're getting cold feet?
WORF: You have scheduled the ritual sacrifice of the targ to occur after the wedding feast has been served.
DAX: We haven't seen each other for five weeks and that's the first thing you say to me?
WORF: We agreed it would be a traditional ceremony.
DAX: Okay, have it your way. First we'll shed blood and then we'll feast.
WORF: As it should be. (LOL!)
KIRA: I'm telling you, Odo, Dukat has only one thing on his mind, and that's revenge. He can't stand the thought that Bajor defeated Cardassia.
ODO: You think he wants to reopen the labor camps?
ODO: Well then, I suppose we should be grateful that he has Weyoun looking over his shoulder.
KIRA: Maybe. Weyoun's a hard one to figure out. I don't really trust him, but I trust him more than Dukat.
ODO: Weyoun knows that it's in the Dominion's best interest to honor its treaty with Bajor. They want to prove to the rest of the Alpha Quadrant that they're true to their word.
KIRA: Weyoun asked me about you. He seemed very concerned about what you thought of him.
ODO: I try not to think of him.
KIRA: He'd be hurt to hear you said that. I'll have to mention it to him.
ODO: I'm glad you can still smile.
KIRA: Only when I'm with you.
ODO: That's kind of you to say.
KIRA: No, it's true. When I talk to you, things don't seem as bad. When I think of Dukat in the Captain's office, or the fact that the Federation seems to be losing this war and we're here doing nothing --
ODO: I share your frustration, Major, but right now there's really nothing we can do but bide our time. It's like Captain Sisko said: Bajor must be kept out of the fighting.
KIRA: And who am I to argue with the Emissary?
QUARK: You know, I never expected to say this, but as occupations go, this one's not so bad.
KIRA: No, I suppose that's true if all you're worried about is a monthly balance sheet.
QUARK: I'm not just concerned with profit, Major. Look around. Do you see any ghetto fences dividing the Promenade? Or exhausted Bajoran slave laborers sprawled on the ground after a gruelling day in the Ore Processing Centre? Do you hear the cries of starving children? I don't. Now don't get me wrong, I miss the Federation too. All I'm saying is, things could be a lot worse.
JOSEPH [on monitor]: You did what?!
SISKO: Dad, it's not quite as bad as it sounds.
JOSEPH [on monitor]: You mean you didn't leave my grandson at the mercy of a vicious, bloodthirsty enemy?
SISKO: Well, no, I did.
JOSEPH [on monitor]: Then it's certainly just as bad as it sounds.
SISKO: Dad, it was not my decision. It was Jake's choice to stay behind.
JOSEPH [on monitor]: Oh, so now you're going to blame this on Jake.
SISKO [on monitor]: I'm not blaming Jake. But he's not a child anymore. He's responsible for his own actions.
JOSEPH [on monitor]: I don't care who's responsible. It's wrong and I want him back.
SISKO: And so do I.
JOSEPH [on monitor]: You think he's all right?
SISKO: I hope so. I'll bring him back, Dad. I promise.
JOSEPH [on monitor]: When?
SISKO: That I don't know. It might be a while. I'm about to be given new orders, and I don't know where they're going to send me.
JOSEPH [on monitor]: Tell them you want to go get your son.
SISKO: It's wartime. It's not up to me. I go where I'm sent. How's the restaurant doing?
JOSEPH [on monitor]: All right. It's been three weeks since I've poisoned anyone. Are things really as bad as the news service claims?
SISKO: Maybe worse.
JOSEPH [on monitor]: Well you certainly know how to comfort a frightened old man.
SISKO: You didn't raise me to be a liar.
JOSEPH [on monitor]: I raised you to be a chef, for all the good it did me. You know, there's something I just don't understand. You're always telling me that space is big, that it's an endless frontier filled with infinite wonders.
SISKO: It's true.
JOSEPH [on monitor]: Well if that's the case, you would think it would be more than enough room to allow people to leave each other alone.
SISKO: It just doesn't work that way. It should, but it doesn't.
JAKE: Excuse me, Mister Weyoun.
WEYOUN: Oh, please. I prefer just Weyoun.
JAKE: That's the kind of detail people like to know. Would this be a good time?
WEYOUN: For what?
JAKE: For the interview we talked about. You know, for the Federation News Service.
WEYOUN: Oh, I'm afraid that will be quite impossible.
WEYOUN: Because I've read your previous articles and they left me with one inescapable conclusion. You are biased against the Dominion.
JAKE: What gave you that idea?
WEYOUN: You keep referring to us as the station's, quote, occupying force, unquote.
JAKE: What's wrong with that?
WEYOUN: It has a negative connotation. All your articles are filled with pejorative terminology, which is why I've been forced to withhold their transmission.
JAKE: Are you telling me that no one in the Federation read my reports?
WEYOUN: If I don't send them, they don't read them.
JAKE: What about freedom of the press?
WEYOUN: Please tell me you're not that naive.
KIRA: You wanted to see me?
DUKAT: I always want to see you, Major. And therein lies the problem. It's been three months since my return to this station and you and I have barely spent any time with one another. Oh, I know you can point out the various meetings we've attended together, but they never seem to offer us the opportunity to venture beyond station business.
KIRA: I don't have time for this. (She turns to leave, but Dukat's voice stops her.)
DUKAT: Major! I haven't dismissed you yet.
KIRA: What do you want from me, Dukat?
DUKAT: Come now, Major. Have the last three months been that bad?
KIRA: Is that what you want? Is that why I'm here? To flatter you? To tell you know what a good job you've doing and how happy we all are to have you back?
DUKAT: Sarcasm doesn't become you, Major. It's your directness that I've always found most appealing.
KIRA: Dukat, I've got better things to do than to stand here and help you play out one of your little fantasies. (She tries to leave again, but Dukat blocks the door.)
DUKAT: You feel I've betrayed you.
KIRA: Not just me, everyone. Even your own people.
DUKAT: Cardassia was on the edge of an abyss, Major. The war with the Klingons left us into a third-rate power. My people had lost their way. I've made them strong again.
KIRA: At what price? You sold Cardassia to the Dominion.
DUKAT: Yes, a high price, to be sure. But look what we're getting in return. The Alpha Quadrant itself.
KIRA: We'll see about that.
DUKAT: (amused) Yes, we will. Oh, I could make things very pleasant for you here, Kira.
KIRA: You could start by doing something about your breath. (SNAP!)
DUKAT: I'm a patient man. I can wait.
KIRA: Wait for what? What do you think is going to happen here, Dukat? That you're going to wear me down with your charming personality? That I'm going to be swept off my feet by that insincere smile? Are you really so deluded that you actually believe that we're going to have some kind of intimate relationship?
DUKAT: Oh, we already do. (EEEEEEEEEEEEEEWWWWWWWWWWWWWW! Get away from her!)
KIRA: A member of the station's Ruling Council. You?
ODO: Along with Weyoun and Dukat. Now I'll have a voice in station policy.
KIRA: You're sure this is a good idea?
ODO: Dukat thought it was a terrible idea. You should have seen his face when Weyoun offered me the position.
KIRA: Don't you see that Weyoun's using you? Your presence on the Council validates the Dominion control of the station.
ODO: I thought we were using him. I know the danger, Major. I've had to walk this line before during the Cardassian occupation. I can do it again, but this time I won't be alone. I'll have you to help me.
KIRA: That's right, you will.
ODO: Then this is a victory after all.
KIRA: I suppose it is. But for some reason, it just doesn't feel like one.