It's a credit to the writers that despite the literally hundreds of stories on TNG and DS9 (and now Voyager) that have been aired over the last eight years, they can still come up with compelling, original ideas. "Destiny" is such a story, with a very clever script and very interesting dialogue, exhibiting some effective philosophical content alongside the best of "In the Hands of the Prophets."
In the midst of the first joint Bajoran/Cardassian cooperative mission—the installation of a communications relay outside the wormhole—Bajoran Vedek Yarka (Erick Avari) visits the station to inform Sisko of an ancient prophecy about the Emissary that is a warning of impending disaster—directly linked to this mission. The prophecy is a convolution of metaphors, but these metaphors come together to provide a seemingly striking message involving a number of distinctive elements.
Paraphrasing the prophecy: Three vipers will return to their nest in the sky in an attempt to peer through the temple gates. A sword of stars will appear in the heavens, and as a result, the temple will burn and will never open or close again.
Yarka argues that the "vipers" are the Cardassian scientists who are heading up the project. The "nest in the sky" is, of course, the station and "peering through the temple gates" is the attempt to communicate through the wormhole with the transceiver relay. He doesn't offer an explanation for the "sword of stars" but predicts that the temple burning, never to open or close again, can only be the disastrous destruction and permanent collapse of the wormhole.
This gives Sisko some rather weighty decisions to make. There is no foreseeable reason why this experiment should cause any sort of problem, let alone something as disastrous as Yarka claims. Should Sisko continue procedures as if he never heard the prophecy text or should he take it into consideration?
The episode's story structure is quite effective. As the narrative unfolds, every act culminates with some sort of unexpected surprise that makes the prophecy seem that much closer to coming true. Just when it appears Sisko is clear from any more problems, something comes up just in time to send us into commercial break.
For example, initially, there are only two Cardassians heading up the project, not three. Then there's the announcement that a third Cardassian will be joining the project. Kira's apprehension starts up, but neither she nor Sisko can see what could possibly go wrong because of this coincidence.
Then there's the appearance of a comet—is it the sword of stars? Kira's apprehension jumps up three notches. The comet has a course that puts it near the wormhole entrance, but not close enough to interfere with the project, let alone cause any disaster. Kira makes a passing remark about the prophecy within earshot of the Cardassians, prompting Sisko to request a private discussion with his first officer. The comment has no place on the bridge of the Defiant, he tells her. She agrees, but she also believes the prophecy is coming true based on the number of "coincidences."
This is the heart of "Destiny." It's a crossing of Kira's faith and her duty. How can she just ignore something she has believed her entire life? Kira reveals to Sisko her ongoing difficulty to see him as simply her commanding officer and not the religious icon he has become in Bajoran lore. At the same time, Sisko is put in the difficult position of being part of the prophecy. He's never been comfortable with the label of Emissary, and this episode is really the first to deeply look at how Sisko feels about it.
However, Sisko realizes he can't call the project off based on a retranslated prophecy that could be interpreted to mean any number of things.
But imagine everyone's surprise when a random variable in the communication test sequence causes the comet's course to be altered such that it heads straight for the wormhole. By this time, I'm thinking Kira's "concrete" justification for calling off the project makes a lot of sense. Sisko sits down and thinks the situation through very carefully. Dax asks him what he would do if he never heard of the prophecy. Continue with the project, he says. There's no reason at all why O'Brien's plan to destroy the comet with modified phasers should fail.
But then it does fail. The Defiant's phasers overload and fail to destroy the comet. With the comet headed directly for the mouth of the wormhole and the crew without phasers to destroy it, a disaster seems imminent. Maybe Yarka was right.
But the effectiveness of "Destiny" practically rides on whether the conclusion can live up to the rest of it. A contrived, last-minute solution to completely disprove the prophecy could have seriously sabotaged this show. Fortunately, the writers know how to finish a good story with a good ending, and they offer a satisfying conclusion that doesn't sell the episode short in any way.
Sisko and Kira manage to pilot the comet through the wormhole with a subspace field around it to prevent it from igniting the wormhole. They are almost successful. The wormhole does end up ignited by small amounts of comet fragments—just enough so the prophecy comes true. But the damage is only minor, and the wormhole doesn't collapse. It simply remains "cracked" open just enough to allow the communication transmission through, never to completely close again.
It's a very clever ending, as Yarka's misinterpretation of the prophecy proves ironic. At the same time, by having the prophecy still actually come true, the writers affirm that religion and Bajoran beliefs still remain characteristic of the series. They also prove that it's quite possible to do a story that isn't derivative. Kudos to this rather cerebral outing.