Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"The Adversary"

***

Air date: 6/19/1995
Written by Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by Alexander Singer

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Look, I have more important things to do than play 'Choose the Changeling.'" — O'Brien to dual Odos

More foreboding is the result of DS9's season three finale, a "quasi-cliffhanger" like "The Jem'Hadar" that's a punchy adventure story in itself while also promising that it's just one of many more to come in the Dominion saga. Here the Dominion affirms itself as a dangerous, malevolent enemy that will be knocking on the Federation's door next year, if not pounding it down. They truly hold the intimidating creepiness that the Borg had looming over TNG after "Q Who."

But first, the lighter moments.

The show begins with a long-awaited character moment as Sisko is awarded his promotion from Commander to Captain. I knew it would happen eventually, but happening in this episode proves to be one of the season's most unexpected and pleasant surprises. Finally, Sisko can say "Captain's Log." I like it.

Another character element I like is the continued back-burner development of the Sisko and Kasidy Yates relationship. Since the creation of Captain Yates' character in "Explorers," the writers have done exactly what should be done with relationship stories on Star Trek: They're taking the slow, subtle, plausible route—keeping it alive while not going overboard. In this outing, Dax presses Sisko for some information about their relationship. The results are, in a word, amiable. Indeed, the writers have worked with Sisko a lot this season, and the results have been very good.

From here, "Adversary" delves into a Defiant-based plot when Ambassador Krajensky (Lawrence Pressman, who also guest-starred in "Second Skin") orders Sisko to take the Defiant on a one-week patrol of the Tzenkethi border. The Federation had been at war with the Tzenkethi over a decade ago, and Krajensky brings news of a coup on their homeworld which could potentially be the beginning of another Federation threat.

Upon leaving the station, O'Brien and Dax discover the Defiant's command systems have been sabotaged. Radiation residue places Ambassador Krajensky at the scene of the crime, but the crew discovers Krajensky is not who he appears to be when he suddenly morphs into an air vent and escapes. Krajensky is a Changeling.

The Changeling's sabotage devices allow him to take control of the ship, which he pilots straight for Tzenkethi space with all weapons armed. He hopes to start a war between the Federation and Tzenkethi by hitting the Tzenkethi fast and hard. With the Federation busy fighting the Tzenkethi, the Dominion would presumably have little trouble coming through the wormhole and conquering the Alpha Quadrant.

Obviously, the crew must stop the Changeling at all costs. Sisko sets up teams of two, armed with phaser rifles to systematically search the ship for the Changeling. Making the task difficult, however, is the fact that the Changeling can look like anything—or anybody.

And here's where "Adversary" works best. It's the best-case scenario for a Star Trek plot along the lines of The Thing. It becomes quite an effective paranoid thriller—working the gears where Voyager's "Cathexis" failed miserably.

Unlike that outing, this episode proves genuinely intense in many places, with its healthy doses of crew paranoia and creepy Changeling masquerading. There's even a blood test Bashir performs to determine if one of the crew members is not as he appears (brrrr...). For most of the way, director Alexander Singer paces the suspense quite well through an impressive collection of Defiant sets, and he gets the helping hand from a fairly effective Chattaway score.

There are also some good character moments, such as the scene between Sisko and Lt. Commander Eddington (Kenneth Marshall) when they discuss the personal meanings of rank. Eddington also has some good scenes with Odo. One reveals the fact that throughout his years as security chief, Odo has never fired a weapon or taken a life, and he doesn't intend to start now with one of his own kind. Very interesting stuff.

Even the seemingly obligatory idea of Sisko arming the Defiant's auto-destruct sequence makes sense here. (Although, is it too much to ask why the auto-destruct program was not disabled by the Changeling's devices?) "One thing is for sure," Sisko says. "We're not going to start a war with the Tzenkethi." This gives Chief O'Brien a limited time to regain control of the ship. Meanwhile, Odo chases the other shapeshifter through the air vents.

One thing Alexander Singer severely botches is the timing on the computer's destruct sequence warnings. A glaring 2 1/2 minutes vanish into thin air when the auto-destruct countdown jumps from ten minutes to seven minutes in an interval of less than 30 seconds—way too noticeable to be ignored. (At the very least, he could've cut briefly to an external view of the ship to signify time passing.)

Something the writers severely botch, however, is Sisko's behavior after he arms the auto-destruct. As the fate of the ship lies in O'Brien's hands, Sisko displays a helplessness that borders on downright apathy. This is completely out of character and I don't like it. I know Sisko better than that!

And of course, you know the writers had to throw in the two Odos trick, presented here to O'Brien in the engine room as he attempts to disable the Changeling's ship takeover devices. Fortunately, this overused bright idea is satirized when O'Brien unleashes the season's best-delivered one-liner—"Look, I have more important things to do than play 'Choose the Changeling.'"

The final showdown plays out here between Odo and the Changeling, ending when the evil shapeshifter is fried by warp core radiation during their struggle. The sequence boasts some impressive CGI morphing effects but, more importantly, gives Odo a personal tragedy when he's forced to take a life for the first time—while also being the first to break the tradition "No Changeling has ever harmed another" by killing one of his own kind. Although this ending is a bit abrupt and Lawrence Pressman doesn't get much in terms of interesting dialogue with Odo, his death scene of reverting into a liquid and then crumbling into dust is a well-realized visual effect. The Changeling has a final message before dying. "It's too late," he whispers to Odo. "We're everywhere."

The idea of a threat from within is still fascinating—reminiscent of the never-developed TNG plotline "Conspiracy." Also, the Dominion has fully established itself in the Trek encyclopedia of villains this season, and we will surely see them again. However, "Adversary" brings up some concerns about what the intentions of this storyline are. In one year, the Founders have gone from Gamma Quadrant monitors to Alpha Quadrant spies. If Dominion operatives are "everywhere," where does DS9 as a series lie?

On one hand, it's nice to know the Defiant is available to escape the station for a fresh starship story. On the other hand, I worry that the writers may forget about Bajor's problems in favor of feeling compelled to go the TNG action/adventure route. And by having the Dominion infiltrate the Federation, they may be over their heads in internal conspiracy—something the series has no real obligation to stress considering the station is on the very edge of Federation space. Bajor has its own problems to deal with. Do we really need to have an attack on the heart of the Federation?

For that matter, is the Defiant really the ship that should be sent on a Starfleet mission like this? (Episodes like this always make me wonder who's left in charge of the station.) One Defiant issue that never really got resolved was what happened to the severe flaws the ship had. Unless Sisko has become an extreme risk-taker by ordering maximum warp of a ship which should tear itself apart at such speeds, we have to assume these flaws were fixed. Still, it would've been nice to at least have a line explaining it.

In any case, "Adversary" is a good season finale—entertaining, suspenseful, and a lure for viewers to come back next season. As for what the writers plan to do with this most extreme threat, only time will tell.

Previous episode: Facets
Next episode: The Way of the Warrior

End-of-season article: Third Season Recap

Season Index

13 comments on this review

Greg M - Wed, Jun 17, 2009 - 2:16am (USA Central)
I don't know how long it's been since the comments section has been here, but I'm very surprised this episode doesn't get any talk around here, much like Equilibrium. I mean for one Sisko gets promoted to Captain, which was big in and of itself. It needed to be done and I'm glad it was finally done in the season 3 finale. Then you had the revelation about the Changelings being everywhere, and that's a great episode to transition between Season 3 and 4. I wonder if this episode would get more comments if Way of the Warrior hadn't been the premiere, but I'd like to think the real premiere was pushed back with Homefront and Paradise Lost.

As for this one, maybe it's not in the top 3 finales, but it's still a great one anyway. Nice way to end season 3.
Nic - Fri, Sep 4, 2009 - 9:07pm (USA Central)
The other great thing about this episode is that if you haven't seen it in a while, you tend to forget about the Tzenkethi part of the plot, so the first half of the episode is like you've never seen it before.

By the way, the "2 1/2 minute jump" during the auto-destruct sequence also happened in Voyager's "Dreadnaught." Maybe ALL Starfleet vessels are programmed with this error to confound the enemy?
Joan T - Tue, May 11, 2010 - 4:45pm (USA Central)
I've noticed this in a few Next Gen eps, when the captain orders all 'non-essential' - personnel locked up. However on the Defiant, which as I understand is a no-frills, battle-ready ship, who are the 'non essential' personnel? Do they mean the janitorial staff? Any help here?
David - Tue, Sep 7, 2010 - 11:21pm (USA Central)
Joan T, I always figured that while it's no frills, the crew is also not all staying at their post 26 hours a day. They're sleeping, eating, in the Mess, etc. So you'd already have at least 1/2 to 2/3 of the crew that didn't need to be on duty at any moment and would therefore be nonessential. Throw in the fact that at the moment the ship is a runaway train and out of the hands of the crew, and so plenty of people who would normally be running maintenance aren't needed (if the sabotage devices control helm and weapons, who needs to man the helm or the weapons batteries?). At that point, it seemed like the only "essential personnel needed were the security teams sweeping the ship, O'Brien's engineering team fighting to fix the ship, and maybe a nurse to stay with Dax. The rest are pretty much made obsolete by the duty rotation and the sabotage's automating the ship.
Nolan - Wed, Oct 20, 2010 - 10:46pm (USA Central)
You can't deny that DS9 knows how to hook a person into watching the next season. And usually with only one line. The Jem'Hadar - "They're coming, and I want to be ready." (or something to that effect" And now "You're too late, we're everywhere." Curses, at this point in time, I can't afford to keep paying for new DVDs :P
David F - Sat, Feb 5, 2011 - 10:01am (USA Central)
I just watched this episode for the second time last night after not seeing it for a long time. I found the episode highly enjoyable but with some glaring flaws that were never dealt with that I just don't understand.

1) Like you said, who is control of the station? DS9 is a Bajoran station, and the Defiant is a Federation starship. Kira and Odo should be on the station. Granted, on a mission like this Odo should go along since he is a Changeling. There is no reason why Kira should be there. Is she representing Bajoran interests? How can she be first officer of a Federation starship? These questions were never answered....but at least they were not as glaring as they were in "Tears of the Prophets".

2) Another flaw, is nobody did their homework on the Tzenkethi? Sisko was just promoted to Captain but did no independent study or gather any information for the mission? He just took the Ambassador's word for everything and that was that? I would think if there was a coup, Sisko might look at a few reports or ask around to see what information he could gather.

3) Who are the Tzenkethi? Why do we care about them? Are they powerful? I think it would have resonated more if they were a species we had known about in the past, because otherwise how powerful could they be if we never heard of them before? Or were they just stating that any war would be destabilizing? In my opinion, it would have resonated more if they mentioned a species that people were familiar with.

4) I do have to say that the last minute of the episode was terrific. It does leave you wanting to come back to season 4.
Nic - Mon, Feb 7, 2011 - 10:31am (USA Central)
Yup, DS9 really did know how to end a season: with a great episode and a dash of ominous foreboding. I'm a little tired of the traiditional hyped-up cliff-hanger formula, I think DS9 was really ahead of its time with this new approach to season enders, it really set the stage for most of today's TV serials.
Krysik - Wed, Oct 19, 2011 - 4:14pm (USA Central)
They already said they were everywhere in another episode or said that was their plan. They even told Odo, he was the first to return and others would come back. Not much suspense to me. The only thing they didn't say before is "Your too late."
But I'm sure they will blame this spies death on Odo, because he is apparently not supposed to harm another liquid blob. I mean they don't really have a name right? Liquid CGI BLOB? Sry, Founders sounds like a club, not a species.
Gaius Maximus - Sun, Jul 1, 2012 - 7:03pm (USA Central)
I like this episode a lot, but the use of the never seen or even mentioned before or again Tzenkethi has always bugged me. The first time I saw the episode I was thinking, "War with the Tzenkethi? Oh no, I guess. Who the heck are the Tzenkethi?" I think the writers really should have used the Romulans or the Cardassians here, but if for some reason they didn't want to use a major power, then at least a minor power we'd heard of before would have been better. Just off the top of my head, the Gorn, the Talarians, the Sheliak, the Tholians, or even the Breen would have been a reasonable choice. Still, it's basically a minor quibble with an excellent show.
Paul M. - Mon, Jul 8, 2013 - 7:03am (USA Central)
@Gaius Maximus

Agreed. Cardassians would work absolutely perfectly in this episode. Ambassador Krajensky tells Sisko about the need to show the flag after the recent coup on Tzenkethi homeworld. That's exactly what happens on Cardassia the very next episode!

This episode would have set up Way of the Warrior perfectly. I am really surprised they didn't use this opportunity to their advantage.
Kotas - Wed, Oct 23, 2013 - 9:06am (USA Central)

Another solid season finale. DS9 does a good job with ending and starting seasons.

7/10
Jack - Tue, Nov 5, 2013 - 12:11pm (USA Central)
Hard to imagine the holodeck being able to recreate Game 7 of a World Series from 1964 with much accuracy, considering the technology of the time.

Unless the creators of these types of programs actually travel back in time to the events to "film" them.

Vylora - Sat, Feb 22, 2014 - 4:48pm (USA Central)
I rather like the idea of the unknown Tzenkethi being a plot point here. I do wish we had learned more of them in the future though. I also agree that Sisko should have done some homework regarding the supposed uprising in their government rather than just hopping on the ship and taking off. I suppose maybe off-screen he did and ended up reading falsified reports courtesy of the changeling.

Pretty strong finish though to a nearly consistently good season 3.

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