Nutshell: The ending is too easy, but overall an extremely intelligent, probing episode.
A Bajoran ship emerges from the wormhole after disappearing into it some 300 years earlier and being suspended in time by the wormhole aliens. The pilot of the ship, a Bajoran man named Akorem Laan (Richard Libertini), wakes up in DS9's infirmary with a new purpose in life—his encounter with the Prophets leads him to believe he is the Emissary to the Bajoran people.
With the assurances that the changes would be accepted by the Bajoran populace, Sisko relinquishes his title of Emissary to Akorem, who, unlike Sisko, has the time and dedication needed to carry out the duties of a Bajoran religious icon. Starfleet has, after all, always wanted Sisko to distance himself from the religious implications his post has demanded of him.
Unfortunately, Akorem's new agenda—along with the support of a fundamentalist Vedek named Porta (Robert Symonds)—includes the return of an abandoned Bajoran caste system known as the d'jarras. Before the Cardassian Occupation, the d'jarras would dictate the role of Bajorans based on their family titles. Akorem believes he was spared the Occupation so that he could return this caste system to heal Bajor. Such caste-based discrimination would not be permitted by the Federation, and if Akorem were to successfully bring this back to Bajoran society, Sisko is certain Bajor's admittance into the Federation would be rejected.
"Accession" is a show that has a lot to say about Bajor's religious side and where Sisko stands in the eyes of the Bajoran people. It's a story with numerous messages which sometimes prove difficult to discern, and with a number of subtexts that a viewer may or may not see. It has dialogue, particularly near the end, which is open to a great deal of interpretation.
This is very good in some important ways. It's fresh and provocative, and it treats the audience with a respect for their intelligence. It's also a sort of throwback to the "old-school DS9"—that being analysis of religious, intra-political Bajoran/Federation issues which were the primary focus of seasons one and two; rather than the action-centered, inter-political Federation/Dominion and Federation/Klingon issues common to seasons three and four.
At the same time, I defy anyone to tell me exactly what this episode boils down to in terms of series or character development after only one viewing. It took me two viewings to reflect on what the episode was trying to say. And after this reflection I still wasn't sure that the episode was as broad and consequential as it should have been.
The show is thoroughly riveting for its first four acts. It effectively sets up an uneasy situation and foreshadows the consequences of changing political administrations where the incoming and outgoing parties have two distinctly different views. Everything surrounding this set-up feels right, from Kai Winn supporting Akorem's radical initiative, to the powerful early scene where Akorem gives his promenade speech while a subtle trace of concern develops on Sisko's face as he listens to what is being said. Even Kira, whose faith couldn't be much more devoted, obviously has second thoughts about where Akorem is bound to take Bajor with his reforms.
This clash of old beliefs and new world culminates with an incident where Vedek Porta kills another Bajoran simply because of the man's "unclean" d'jarra—intolerable murder justified by Porta's religious extremism. This, in combination with Sisko's vision where Kai Opaka (Camille Saviola) appears to offer ambiguous words hiding apparent advice, finally makes Sisko realize that the d'jarras are not going to do anything but erase all the progress he has worked for. He decides he must ensure the d'jarras are not re-instituted.
The story's conclusion, however, does not feel quite right. Sisko doesn't want to challenge Akorem's claim, as that would divide Bajor and cause chaos. Instead, Sisko and Akorem go into the wormhole to ask the Prophets who is really the Emissary, and if they intended Akorem to bring the d'jarras back. The wormhole aliens answer the question with a variety of intriguing but ultimately incomprehensible riddles (it boils down to "no"), and they are able to send Akorem back to the century he came from.
This is simply too easy. It's evident the wormhole aliens have no clue or care about Bajoran politics or religion. Yet, with a convoluted explanation, they are able to convince Akorem that he was making a false presumption that really had no basis, while simultaneously telling Sisko that he is the real Emissary since he taught them the meaning of linear time. It took me a while to put my finger on why I didn't find this completely satisfying, but I think it's because the aliens' answer seems too arbitrary. Instead of working the problem at hand, the writers use this device to simply delete the problem to a point where one would almost never know it existed in the first place.
In fact, it surprising how little this all affects the series or the characters. Based on the subject matter, the episode initially appears to be headed for a major series self-statement. Instead it's almost a Reset Button Plot that ends up right where it starts. Take, for example, the moving but overstated and oversimplified scene where Kira tells Sisko that she plans to resign her post to move back to Bajor and follow her d'jarra. Would she really give up everything in her life to be a sculptor simply because the new Emissary says so? The episode says yes, but other elements of the show cast doubt. Odo's line "Your faith seems to have led you to something of a contradiction" is a very relevant comment, and, in retrospect, the way Kira shrugs it off is simultaneously an interesting truth about faith and a puzzling oversimplification that disregards common sense. The conclusion should have seriously taken a look at this side of the show. Instead, the issue rides on a single decision by Sisko, which is made too easy with the cut-and-dry ending.
The only real consequence of the show is Sisko finally coming to terms with his role as Emissary. While I do like this, I really hoped for more large-scale development from the episode—which, because of the ending's ineffectiveness, we don't really get much of. Still, "Accession" made me think hard on numerous occasions (this review feels more like a discussion than most I've written), which is a most definite plus.
Also, let's not forget the B-story involving Keiko O'Brien's return to the station. This is absolutely top-notch B-story material, featuring a great performance (marked by some moments of subtle hilarity) by Colm Meaney as the everyday family man finally getting his family back (soon to be a bigger family with the announcement that Keiko is pregnant). The humor surrounding his new dilemma—that he has to get home in a hurry every night and not drink or play darts with Julian—is a load of fun. This has to be one of the best B-stories of the year.
It's too bad "Accession's" ending isn't a little more realized, because it dilutes what could have been an absolutely riveting show. Still, I highly recommend the episode, because it holds many good moments and discussions. It isn't perfect, but it's very good.