I think I only need to say one word here to express the awesomeness of this episode: Garak! \0/
Okay, there's a lot of good in this episode, but any episode with Garak playing a major role is, by definition, an awesome episode. Any episode that introduces "plain, simple tailor" and Cardassian exile Garak must receiving a standing "O."
Garak is a genuinely unique construct within the Star Trek universe, a completely new kind of character. You haven't seen him before, and you haven't seen him since. And, I have a sneaking suspicion, that you probably won't see his like in any future incarnation, not unless Paramount becomes willing to do something very different with The Franchise.
Can you tell that I love Garak? \0/ Surely, you do.
Oh, sure. There's a plot. Violent Bajoran terrorist who's part of a violent Bajoran splinter group and who's a war buddy of Kira's claims sanctuary on the station and swears on a stack of sacred scrolls that he wants to end his bad-boy ways. How violent is he? Ministers in the Bajoran Provisional Government isn't all that sure they want him back. The Kunmar (the violent splinter group in question) not only is continuing the war against Cardassia, but they hate the provisional government (they assassinated a minister only the previous month) and they want Bajor only for Bajorans (which means bye-bye Federation).
Kira, of course, at first believes our guest-baddie of the week when he claims that he wants to come in from the cold — primarily because they're buddies from way back. Furthermore, she sees an opportunity to get the Kunmar to lay down their arms and become reintegrated into Bajoran society (which means an end to the Bajoran-on-Bajoran terrorist acts) if she can convince Sisko to provide sanctuary and the government to issue a pardon.
Throw in the Duras sisters who have mysterious business with guest-baddie and are raising money for an army of their own so they can retake Klingon by storm, and guest-baddie's constant mind games with Kira, and you've got a delicious stew of betrayal and deceit coming your way.
Sure, it's no surprise that in the end Kira ends up going against her old war buddy and foiling his dastardly plot to wipe out the wormhole so everyone and their brother will lose interest in trying to control Bajor "for the good of Bajorans" (thereby ensuring that the Federation is staying put — for now), but half the fun is getting there. The other half is that Kira freakin' hates herself for it when even the shouting is all over.
Some stand-out things in this episode:
- Have I mentioned Garak? If I haven't, allow me to rectify the situation. This episode never comes right out and say that the "plain, simple tailor" schtick is pure bullshit. Instead, they let Andrew Robinson's acting and a few throw-away comments carry it. Fail to pay attention, and you may actually end the episode with a feeling of unease because Garak just might be telling the truth.
- Dr. Bashir's puppy-like excitement that Garak has singled him out for practicing his Cardassian mind-game fu and the eyerolling this excitement causes among the entire senior staff, thus launching approximately a billion Bashir/Garak slash fics.
- The first hint that Chief O'Brien may have more in common with the the former Bajoran resistance fighters than we've been led to believe, and the fact that he automatically sympathizes with terrorists both past and present — provided they're wanted only for "killing Cardies."
- The seamless integration of the Duras sisters into the plot, giving them a damn good reason to be on DS9, and effectively showing just how far their fortunes (and their honor) have fallen. Given this is first season and that the Duras sisters were Next Generation characters, this is clearly a case of stunt casting, but it's good stunt casting.
- The effective conversation between Odo and Sisko over whether or not to preemptively turn the Duras sisters over to the Klingons. Odo (unsurprisingly) is all for bunging them into a cell. Sisko says that Odo can't because the Duras sisters haven't committed any crimes in Federation territory (yet).
- The fact that when Odo wants to spy on suspicious characters, he turns into a rat. I mean, think about it. It's a sign that rats may actually have occupied a few Federation space stations. How nice to know that when humans took to the stars, they probably took some rats with them.
- For once, when a regular character states that they hate having the Federation around to prop up their society and protect their planet from hostile outside interests (helloooooo Cardassians who keep drooling over the wormhole), you actually believe them. I give DS9 a lot of kudos. Kira's dislike of the Federation was so well-established in the pilot, and her irritation with Sisko in the previous episode was so clear, that when Kira says she doesn't like the Federation presence any more than the guest baddie, it actually sounds like the character honestly holds that sentiment.
- The fact that, at the end of the day (and by that, I mean the end of the series and not the end of the episode), every accusation our guest baddie levels at Kira during his little emotional beatdown/mind game turns out to be more than prescient. It's also 100% correct.
- Kira's tireless politicizing on behalf of the guest baddie, which includes harassing government ministers to grant amnesty, loudly "lobbying" Sisko to grant sanctuary, and going right over Sisko's head to Starfleet when it looks like Sisko isn't going to "do the right thing."
- Federation arrogance once more raising its ugly head. An admiral dresses down Sisko because "that Bajoran woman who works for you" bothered her in the middle of a staff meeting and complained about Sisko's command tactics. Note that she not only doesn't bother to remember Kira's name, she pegs Kira as Sisko's employee.
- Sisko unapologetically threatening to rip Kira's head off if she ever tries to appeal to his superior officers because she disagrees with him.
Although there's not a whole lot of suspense in the episode, the ride is a good one and it's entertaining. No one carries the idiot ball for even a second. Everyone's motivations and cross-motivations make sense. And everyone seems solidly in character for first season DS9. Overall, a good first season episode.