WARNING: Abandon all hope of remaining unspoiled, ye who enter here: "Sacrifice of Angels" spoilers lie below.
In brief: The epitome of frustration: many things done and done well, but many things undone or turned completely back.
The term "reset button" has come into such common usage among SFTV fans that I'm afraid to use it; it feels like a cliche. Nevertheless, that's the immediate phrase that comes to mind after seeing "Sacrifice of Angels" -- although a couple of changes were made, so few of the changes hinted at over the past several weeks survived the story's end that I can't help but feel extremely ... well, extremely *cheated*, and almost misled by earlier events, and misled in ways that aren't fair to the viewer.
The regular character who underwent the greatest change over the course of the six weeks was Odo, and I found the Odo arc in "Behind the Lines" to be easily one of the single most compelling features of this entire war-against-the-Dominion storyline. In a single hour, Odo transformed from the resistance's greatest hope into its greatest fear, and all without a single shred of ill intent on his part; he was just so obsessed with *belonging*, with being able to find others like him, that he fell in over his head.
That was challenging. That was, quite frankly, pretty damned groundbreaking stuff for DS9 -- and given the chain of events it set in motion, it should have had major repercussions for Odo and for how everybody viewed him.
Now? Well, it's perhaps too soon to be able to judge with any real certainty, but based on the aftermath of Odo saving the day it appears that all of that has been excised from reality with a single sweep of a writer's pen. No recriminations, no repercussions, no consequences -- just a quick "the Link was paradise, but it appears I'm not ready for paradise", and Kira *accepts* that. Will Sisko and company even *find out* how Odo's dithering nearly doomed the Alpha Quadrant? I sure hope so, but after "Sacrifice of Angels" I'm not feeling particularly hopeful.
"Sacrifice of Angels" had three main frustrations; the first was Odo. The second was the Federation's victory in the war. No, not the fact that the good guys won; I'm not *that* big of a curmudgeon, and it was certainly a foregone conclusion that Sisko would be back in his office eventually. The problem I have here is the *way* in which they won.
That doesn't even mean I object to the nearly literal _deus ex machina_ way in which the Dominion reinforcements were removed from the picture. It was certainly somewhat annoying, particularly since Sisko didn't seem to think in advance of *asking* the Prophets to do something, which he probably should have done -- but when all is said and done, the Prophets *are* an integral part of DS9 and particularly of the wormhole, so having them remove the reinforcements is somewhat plausible, and certainly an awful lot better than having O'Brien crank up some magic-tech solution.
The problem I have with Sisko's victory is that it didn't come about because he and the Federation were smart, or because they managed to effectively exploit the flaws of the Cardassian/Dominion alliance. The reason Sisko and company won is that their principal adversaries turned into rank idiots overnight -- and *that* is simply bad plotting.
For instance, one can look at the somewhat bizarre scene between Odo and the Founder, where she tells Odo that she's having Kira executed so that Odo will be free of her. Excuse me? Is this the same Founder who managed to play on Odo's feelings so perfectly several times before? If she really felt Kira's execution was in Odo's best interests, she wouldn't have warned him in advance of it; she wouldn't have told him about it at all until she'd *done* it. Then Odo might have felt that his choices were being removed, but since he really wouldn't have been able to do anything about it, he probably would have been drawn back into the Link -- and would have truly gone back to his people. As it is, we got the chance to see Odo "redeem" himself and be forgiven -- but if the Founders had possessed an ounce of brains, Odo would have stayed put, Kira and Rom would never have gotten to the computer, and Dukat would have managed to destroy the Defiant before it ever entered the wormhole.
(The depressing thing is that there was another way to have Odo find out. Weyoun came in later to take the Founders into more secure areas, after Kira escaped. Had Odo found out *then* that Kira had been captured and slated for execution, he could have been outraged at her plight *and* at the deception -- and rather than the Founder being the one who turned stupid, it would simply have been Weyoun not quite considering all the ramifications of his statements, which is far more intelligent.)
The second example of "villain idiocy" came very near the end. Once the Defiant came back out of the wormhole and it became clear the reinforcements weren't going to show up, everyone decides to evacuate the station (or, as Weyoun so marvelously put it, "time to start packing!"). All well and good so far. However, even without reinforcements, they still have a gigantic fleet -- remember, the one that outnumbered the Federation fleet two to one? Even given the morale blow of losing DS9 and the help from the Klingons, there's no reason why the Dominion can't continue the war and work on a near- immediate re-seizure of DS9. After all, let's remember that the Alpha Quadrant supply of "white" has been destroyed -- the Dominion *needs* access to the wormhole if they're going to survive in this part of the galaxy at all. The jump from "time to abandon the station" to "time to pull everything back to Cardassian space" was way too severe. Maybe the Founders were just cautious -- but the Cardassians are not, and either Dukat or Damar should have made a serious protest.
Then, of course, there's the entire sequence of Quark and Ziyal freeing the prisoners; no, thank you. The Cardassian guard should have refused to let Quark and Ziyal come anywhere near him, particularly without bringing a second person into the room, and the Jem'Hadar Quark threatened should have shot on sight, or potentially shrouded themselves -- you know, that thing they can do that adds to their formidability? Quark single-handedly taking out two Jem'Hadar is possibly the least realistic victory I've seen since Worf lost to two Ferengi *even with the advantage of surprise* in TNG's "Rascals".
The final frustration is more a reflection on the arc than it is on "Sacrifice of Angels" in particular -- but given that it's the closing segment of the arc, it gets the brunt of the grief. Given the challenges faced by Our Heroes during the war, and given the title of the war's closing chapter, I think viewers can legitimately expect that *something* of serious value needs to be sacrificed if the good guys are going to be able to win. Think back to past Trek: in the second film, Kirk defeated Khan, but at the cost of his dearest friend. In the third film, Kirk regained Spock -- but at the cost of his ship and his son. In "Yesterday's Enterprise", history was restored -- but at the cost of a ship and all lives aboard, including Tasha Yar. (No comments about Sela, please; there it was the *viewers* who were asked to sacrifice. :-) ) In DS9's "Duet", Kira starts realizing that simply being Cardassian is not a war crime -- but it takes the death of a good and decent man to help her reach that realization. In DS9's second season, the Circle is broken and a Bajoran civil war is averted, but at the cost of the very hero Kira hoped would be her world's salvation. The list goes on.
In this six-part arc, what did the heroes lose? Some sleep, certainly, and we were told that the Federation lost many valued lives -- but what did *we* get to see of that sacrifice? The two people who lost the most here were Dukat and Ziyal -- and frankly, Ziyal was so erratically written that her sacrifice didn't feel like a meaningful one to me. Kira didn't lose her self-respect, Odo didn't lose Kira (or so it's been implied), Sisko didn't lose Jake ... no one had their entire world- view changed by this change of situation. That, more than anything else, feels *wrong* to me, and feels like a reset button. Aside from the fact that Garak won't have someone hanging on his arm and Dukat is no longer leading Cardassia, I almost feel that the whole story was an interesting exercise on the part of the writers and nothing more. I shouldn't have to feel that way, and after all the promise we saw in last year's finale and the first four parts of this season (excluding "Sons and Daughters"), I really feel cheated.
That doesn't mean "Sacrifice of Angels" was totally without merit, however. Its greatest strength, I think, was in the handling of Dukat. I said earlier that the heroes won because the villains were stupid, but Dukat's sin wasn't so much stupidity as it was arrogance. For Dukat, that works beautifully: Dukat has always felt he was destined for greatness, and his explanation to Weyoun that the only true victory is one where your enemies are forced to realize the essential wrongness of ever having opposed you in the first place was an absolute joy to behold. As a result, his near-total belief that the battle was already won blinded him to the risk Sisko represented, and his willingness to let Sisko get close enough to see his loss first-hand felt totally realistic. His subsequent crumbling in the face of defeat almost hurt to watch, but mostly because Dukat's been such an effectively realized character that it felt like we were losing a friend. Dukat wandering the Promenade, nearly oblivious to all around him was a marvelous scene (if quite brief), and despite my feeling that Ziyal's death was unnecessary, it proved an effective final straw to send Dukat into catatonia. I imagine we're going to see Dukat again, but I'm not sure in what way I'd want to; having him somehow get back to his old self will feel like a betrayal of one of the arc's major successes.
"Sacrifice of Angels" also did a good job in other ways. The cross- cutting between the Defiant getting ever closer to DS9, while Rom works to disable the station's weapons, while Dukat awaits his ultimate triumph, was real edge-of-the-seat material in a lot of ways; even knowing from previews that the Defiant was going to end up in the wormhole didn't seem to matter much, as I wanted to see exactly how it turned out that way. Both the effects and the editing in the Defiant's battle sequences were also top-notch; things have come a long way in the last few years, and the Battle of Four Fleets (tm) certainly showed it, with things happening in so many different places that it was difficult to keep up. (And, of course, the effect of the minefield going poof was at least as effective as the shot showing it starting up back in "Call to Arms".)
The use of the Prophets was also reasonable, though not quite on the level of their previous appearances in "Emissary" and "Accession". (It was eons ahead of "Prophet Motive", however; of course, it's not tough to beat playing straight man in an all-Ferengi story.) On the negative side, having Sisko manage to convince the Prophets to take action by dint of a good speech really didn't feel right; it's making the Prophets seem too humanoid and too comprehensible, unlike the ones we saw in "Emissary". On the plus side, the taste of menace in their statement that Sisko "will find no rest" on Bajor was nicely foreboding, the constant references to Sisko's life in terms of "the game" hearkened back to earlier conversations very effectively, and the entire sequence felt nicely eerie. (One of the best moments was seeing the Prophets take the shape of *Weyoun* when they said "We are of Bajor"; talk about cognitive dissonance...)
On the whole, though, I have to say that I found "Sacrifice of Angels" pretty disappointing. As the last part of a major story, it should be a roller-coaster ride -- but it should not be a roller-coaster ride between "wow!" and "no, that's stupid!", and it shouldn't be a roller-coaster ride at the expense of characterization. In the end, the arc made a lot of promises and kept very few -- and that's frustrating. I give everyone involved a lot of credit for trying to do something different, but I get the feeling that no one quite knew how to end it. Sigh.
Other, shorter thoughts:
-- I particularly liked the use of Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade" early on in the show; it encapsulated the moment nicely. (And thanks to Roger Noe for reminding me what the poem was; I knew I recognized it, but the exact title was slipping my mind.)
-- It felt a little off to have the Prophets take the form of *Damar*; he was an integral part of the show and the story, yes, but he's not someone *Sisko* would realize as such, and Sisko's the one they were trying to communicate with.
-- Speaking of Damar, I kind of wonder at this point what's going to become of him. Is there *anyone* who doesn't want him dead now?
-- Some might think Odo was able to leave his room too easily; I don't. Remember, the Founder said that Odo was more important to the Founders than the Alpha Quadrant; as such, I don't think she particularly cared whether he successfully opposed them so much as she did the fact that he *chose* to. Weyoun might have thought of it, but he's never been one to oppose a Founder.
-- Jake turned into a cipher as these six weeks have unfolded, and I'm not sure Bashir ever rose above that status. Exactly what was the point of having Jake on the station? (Don't tell me it was to get the information to Sisko; if that's the only point, *Quark* could have done that somehow.)
-- "Have you ever been diagnosed as anhedonic?" Now there's a word you don't hear every day ... but it's a delicious insult. :-)
-- The imagery of the baseball was marvelous throughout the entire show, and it seems only fair that the show end with Sisko holding it again.
-- "The Sisko is belligerent." "Aggressive." "Adversarial." It's interesting which characters the Prophets chose to speak through when they made those three pronouncements. (I also liked their use of Odo to dismiss Sisko's concerns as "a corporeal matter.")
That about covers it. I feel like I'm being awfully hard on "Sacrifice of Angels", but I see it as something like this: I'm a teacher, and when I see someone who should be getting A's coming up with B's and B-'s, it's frustrating. This arc had an awful lot of potential -- and although much was done and done successfully, so much was taken back later or left undone that I came away feeling disappointed. Perhaps later episodes will ease that feeling -- but for now, it's there.
So, wrapping up:
Writing: Not enough sacrifice, not enough intelligence, and not enough follow-through. Directing: No problems here. Acting: I felt that a couple of Sisko's speeches (particularly to the Prophets) felt a bit stilted, but everyone else was fine.
OVERALL: A 6, for effort more than anything else. I'm not at all sure how this will age; it may jump up, or it may plummet. Consider that a very temporary rating.
Break out the Klingon blood-champagne: it's wedding time.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) firstname.lastname@example.org <*> "A true victory is to make your enemy see they were wrong to oppose you in the first place!" -- Dukat Copyright 1997, 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.