WARNING: Having a "Change of Heart" about DS9 spoilers? Then avoid the ones that are right after this warning.
In brief: Thin, but with a lot of good moments.
Given its initial premise, "Change of Heart" didn't have a lot going for it. If the episode boils down to the log line I gave above, there's no question as to the outcome -- unless Terry Farrell is up and leaving the show mid-season, Dax isn't actually going to die. As such, the question becomes whether Worf is actually forced to make the choice, or is taken off the hook by some outside means. With that accepted as a given, however, "Change of Heart" managed to pull off a reasonably entertaining show, primarily on the strength of its early dialogue and some actual consequences to Worf (though not necessarily enough) in its final scenes.
To start with, the Worf-Dax relationship actually sounded real for a change. The "I don't feel like talking any more" was a fairly standard Hollywood moment, but the banter in the runabout about how and where to spend their honeymoon rang true, as did the discussion of which one of them is more set in his or her ways. For instance, Worf's insistence that "aboard the Enterprise, I was considered quite amusing," was perfectly matched with Dax's "That must've been one dull ship." (The pacing of the dialogue also helped, especially in the "Surrender?" "Bad word." "VERY bad word." "Okay..." sequence.)
The other part of the show that proved a fairly light, if predictable, change of pace was in O'Brien's and Bashir's attempt to beat Quark at tongo. While the events were telegraphed fairly well in advance (I mean, is there anyone who didn't guess Quark would somehow use Bashir's emotions against him, if not the exact route?), the execution was delightful, both of O'Brien's initial attempt to get Bashir into the game and of Quark's subsequent maneuvering. There was also something of a tie-in to the main story; Bashir's feelings for Dax proved his undoing, just as Worf's did. That kept the tongo game from feeling solely like padding to bring the show up to a full hour, which helped.
What did feel more like padding, unfortunately, was much of the main part of the story. The basic idea of Worf and Dax having to rescue a Cardassian defector is all well and good, but even the initial premise of sending the two of them out there lacked justification. We were told that they were chosen to run the mission, but not why, apart from "well, the Defiant's gone and lots of runabouts are on maneuvers." We haven't seen Worf in the Badlands very often, and he's never been known for his espionage capabilities -- so why send him? (Sending him with Dax is an even worse move; that point was addressed at the end, but one wonders why Starfleet doesn't have a blanket rule against sending married couples into danger, given how natural Worf's reaction was.)
Even leaving that aside, there were pacing problems. Perhaps to conceal the fact that there wasn't much plot, we were treated to Dax piloting through an asteroid field (astronomically suspect, but very pretty effects-wise), and more notably a dizzying array of shots featuring ... Worf and Dax walking through the jungle. Okay, the point got across -- they're in the wilderness without a map. Did we really need to have that shown in so many scenes, though? Admittedly, these did a far better job than, say, Voyager's Twisted in season 2, where the walking through corridors was accompanied by ill-considered dialogue; this time, some of the moments were important story points (such as Worf seeing Dax leave a huge bloodstain on a tree) and all of them were accompanied by music, making them essentially wallpaper rather than actively annoying. The bottom line, though, is that the episode felt at least five minutes too long.
As for Worf's actual choice to save Dax at the expense of the mission, I liked it -- but what I didn't like was the direction during his fateful decision. To be blunt, it was ambiguous at best; the first time through, I read the scene as him discovering Lasaran was dead and tossing his weapon away in frustration, not deciding to abandon the mission entirely. Going back over it, I can see the intent more clearly, but I don't think it was particularly clear on a first viewing that that's what happened.
The later consequences to Worf were a plus, but only if we actually see them carried out. Sisko's orders that Worf and Dax shouldn't be alone on a mission together ever again was a rule that should be standard Starfleet policy, at least during wartime; the fact that it isn't is disturbing, but I'll be content with this so long as Sisko actually sticks to it. The fact that Worf will never be offered a command is ... well, really not a surprise; I should think the fact that he killed Duras and tried to help his own brother commit ritual suicide might well be factors there as well. What consequences really need to be shown, however, is that Worf's turning his back on the mission could well cost thousands or millions of lives. Frankly, I'd like to see some survivor of a Dominion attack blame Worf for it somehow; given that the mission itself was a secret, I'm not sure how that could be done, but otherwise the stern lecture isn't much more than a stern lecture. (Having seen Odo's betrayal of Rom be dismissed with about four lines of dialogue earlier this season, I'm far less willing to cut future promises much slack; let me see Worf really be taken to task for his actions in a way that means something.)
-- Worf and O'Brien wagering on the initial game of tongo was cute, as was Worf's blind faith in Dax's strategy. ("You have absolutely NO idea how this game is played, do you?")
-- Both DS9 and B5 featured a major female character stripping down (or rather, being seen unclad with rather more implied) on screen this week. You're a little late, folks; February sweeps are over...
-- Although the walking-through-the-jungle sequences felt very padded, the music during them was quite reasonable, and the music for the Jem'Hadar attack was very striking.
-- About that Jem'Hadar attack: the weapon leaving Dax bleeding uncontrollably was good continuity (it's how Muniz died in The Ship last year), but I'm still wondering how an energy weapon can contain an anticoagulant...
-- The makeup department did a good job making Dax look like total and utter hell by the end of the episode, and Farrell managed to carry off the behavior as well.
That's about it. There's not much to this review, but there wasn't much to the episode, either. Sporadic moments, like the Worf/Dax runabout scene and the Bashir/Quark tongo game, are worth watching; the episode as a whole is pretty neutral.
So, wrapping up:
Writing: Some wonderful incidental dialogue in the service of a not overly compelling story. Directing: Lots of walking and occasionally muddled; Livingston has definitely done better. Acting: No complaints.
OVERALL: 5.5, I think; fair to middling, but not worth a second look.
NEXT: Three weeks of reruns; see you in four.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) email@example.com <*> "Did you want to fight about it?" "No! I just didn't expect you to surrender so quickly." "Surrender?" "Bad word." "Very bad." "Okay..." -- Worf and Dax discussing their honeymoon Copyright 1998, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.