Nutshell: Very strong. A probing tale about Sisko, Eddington, and the Maquis. Perhaps the best Maquis story yet.
The most interesting aspect about "Blaze of Glory" is that it shows how the winds of change in the Alpha Quadrant affect people, and it finally reveals a developing understanding that Sisko takes as a result of the Maquis plight. There's a lot of good stuff here—compelling dialog scenes with tough questions and probing issues, fascinating performances, all wrapped together in a slick action-adventure premise.
When the Federation and Klingons intercept a message intended for Michael Eddington, they learn of a dying effort by the Maquis to cause a large amount of damage on Cardassia—cloaked missiles with deadly weapons have been dispatched, and if the missiles reach Cardassia there could be a high death toll, sparking an all-out war between the Cardassians' Dominion allies and the Alpha Quadrant.
To prevent the possibility of war (or perhaps "delay" would be a better word considering the volatility of the Dominion situation), Sisko decides he must stop the missiles at all costs, and so he travels to Eddington's penal institution to recruit him for assistance in aborting the missiles. Needless to say, Eddington is less than thrilled to willingly form such an alliance.
It may sound like a standard formula (two arch-enemies must put aside their differences and ally themselves in the name of a larger issue), but "Blaze of Glory" is a very relevant and intelligent story that easily transcends the superficialities of such a situation. The reason: it has a plethora of meaningful dialog that plays to the strengths of DS9 as a series. The basic foundations of DS9's "larger picture" has relied on (1) the idea of long-lasting consequences that build on the existing plot threads, and (2) the ramifications of various political situations that constantly evolve and how these various aspects of political intrigue affect each other. Much of "Blaze of Glory" draws its core from these two strengths.
This episode is the best Maquis story in recent memory—perhaps the best of them all. The show does a superb job of fleshing out understandings on all playing fields—including the audience's. The episode seems to get to the heart of the Maquis by showing the way Eddington perceives himself, the Maquis, and Sisko's attitudes toward the Maquis. Similarly, the episode also conveys Sisko's feelings about Eddington's and the Maquis' motives, as well as his coming to terms with his own position on the matter. The beauty of the episode is how the dialog goes in directions that take the characters to new heights of realization. In the end, not only do the characters see things in new lights, but we, the audience, also see different aspects of all sides.
Almost all of "Blaze of Glory" works wonderfully on at least one or more levels, but there are two scenes that stand out in particular.
First is an extended dialog scene on the Runabout—extremely well done, and very strong. The strength of this scene speaks for itself, and I can't quite do justice to it short of quoting the entire argument (which I'm not going to do—I suggest you go watch it yourself). But, in short, this was not a simple example of a "hero" and a "villain"; rather, this was an example of differing mindsets, shades of grey, difficult circumstances, and two characters arguing a relevant point of view.
This is a terrific scene of debate—highlighting conflicting opinions and errors in judgment. Of particular interest is the scene's acknowledgement of Sisko's old friend Cal Hudson, who gave up Starfleet to join the Maquis—a man unheard of since the Maquis' introduction second season. Eddington explains how Hudson "expected more" of Sisko—expected more understanding of the plight of a people fighting Cardassian oppression. Eddington comments on Sisko's mistake of making the situation a personal issue of "Sisko versus the Maquis." The Maquis, as Eddington puts it, were never a real threat to the Federation; but they were a threat to Sisko's position—a stain on his record, and an injury to his ego because he'd been betrayed by people he'd trusted. Hudson recently died in a skirmish with the Cardassians, Eddington reveals, but it's interesting to see that Hudson forgave Sisko, whereas Sisko couldn't forgive Hudson for betraying Starfleet—betraying him. Eddington's point, I believe, is that the Maquis wanted more acceptance from the Federation, instead of having their backs turned on them—and more, being hunted by Sisko and the Federation—at every turn.
On the other hand is Sisko's argument that the Maquis needed leadership that strove for a negotiated peace. He sees Eddington's selling the Maquis on the false dream of armed victory as what ultimately led the Maquis "straight into their graves." The meaning behind this dialog is intriguing. One wonders exactly how much the Maquis' hostile actions toward a Cardassia headed into effeteness caused them to form the alliance with the Dominion.
The Second standout scene is the one in Eddington's prison cell, where Sisko tries to convince Eddington that he has to help or else billions of people will die as a consequence. But Eddington explains that he stopped caring about the world the day the Cardassian/Dominion alliance declared war on the Maquis and slaughtered them in a mere three days. When Sisko offers Eddington a pardon in exchange for helping him, Eddington replies with "Where would I go? What would I do?" "Anything you want," Sisko replies. "How about bringing the Maquis back from the dead?", Eddington retorts. Eddington's remarks are pointed and effective—the story demonstrates how the destruction of a cause and a people who meant everything to Eddington has led him to apathy and disgust. Life for this man has become virtually meaningless.
Such issues in "Blaze of Glory" are worthy of high praise, and they're the reason I like the Maquis. The Maquis have always been good at challenging views of the Federation that we normally accept at face value. However, this episode also benefits because it acknowledges current events, unlike the way "For the Cause" completely ignored the Klingon situation, and the way "For the Uniform" didn't quite transcend its personal vendetta premise. In a way, "Blaze of Glory" is a powerful follow-up to "By Inferno's Light"—it shows what has happened to the Maquis since the Cardassians joined the Dominion and Dukat carried out his vow to destroy the Maquis. It shows the Maquis in ruins; destroyed, helpless, and desperate—a lost cause. Hence the revenge factor: launch the missiles to kill a horde of Cardassians as a retaliatory measure for wiping out the Maquis. It explains one reason why Dukat and the Cardassians decided to join the Dominion in the first place—the Maquis were hurting the Cardassians; the Cardassian government was in chaos; the Maquis had them on the run. Sisko's remark to Eddington: "And they ran right into the arms of the Dominion."
The way Wolfe and Behr tie the Maquis into the grand scheme of things is very plausible and respectable—and something that wasn't done nearly as effectively up to this point. It's quite welcome here.
As an action-adventure, "Blaze of Glory" also works very well, featuring impressive sets and convincing production design, eye-pleasing visual effects, and good stunt work. There's a tension-filled pursuit through the Badlands as Eddington and Sisko must elude two Jem'Hadar ships using a dangerous, unconventional procedure. (The Badlands always provide a good setting for chases and explosions.) Once Eddington and Sisko reach the Maquis base with the missile launch site (where they can stop the missiles by entering the abort code), they unexpectedly encounter a squadron of Jem'Hadar soldiers, leading to some of the better phaser battles and fistfights on record.
There's plenty of testosterone in this episode. Sisko and Eddington knock each other around just enough to make it clear that this is a very uneasy alliance, but without going overboard. The dialog is also plentiful in acerbic sarcasm.
Yet the premise doesn't turn into "48 Hours plus the Jem'Hadar." The Maquis backdrop keeps Sisko's and Eddington's personalities in perspective. Once Eddington discovers that the base has been stormed by Jem'Hadar and sees the Maquis bodies littering the floor, the realization sets in that everything has gone wrong. But Sisko also comes to a realization that the Maquis were forced into many of their circumstances. Once again (as also noted for last week's "Children of Time"), this indicates that tough questions that don't have pat answers are almost always the most powerful types of questions. I'll welcome them every time.
A twist of the plot reveals that there really are no missiles headed for Cardassia; the message was a code to alert Eddington that the Maquis survivors had reached a rendezvous point and were ready for evacuation. I don't think it works against the episode that it uses this deception, hinting at the possibility of war to get us involved with the Maquis plight. In fact, I think that's the point. It shows the lack of trust between the Maquis and the Federation. Could Eddington have come to Sisko by telling him the truth about the need for the Maquis evacuation? Somehow, I don't think it would've been nearly as motivating.
It was inevitable that Eddington dies in the course of the episode—gunned down by Jem'Hadar during the evacuation of the Maquis survivors. This inevitability, however, also works to the show's favor, displaying an Eddington with no remaining purpose, giving his life for his lost cause in a fitting "blaze of glory." It makes perfect sense. I think Eddington had a good idea that he wasn't coming back the moment he saw the first Jem'Hadar soldier on the Maquis base.
I also appreciated the way the ending highlights Sisko coming to understand the Maquis—almost as if his eyes have been reopened to the reality of their struggle and the subtleties of their situation, masking the contempt he had for their betrayal—simply because it's not so cut and dry.
Kim Friedman, who has directed a number of both action-oriented and drama-oriented episodes on Trek, delivers a winner with dead-on execution. The action scenes provide excitement, and the drama scenes are even more powerful—nicely performed (Kenneth Marshall and Avery Brooks again work very well together), with compelling polemics. Naturally, I could've done without the B-story in this episode (involving Nog's need to be respected by the Klingons on the station)—not because it was bad (it was reasonable), but because it simply interrupts the infinitely more powerful main plot. That's a minor complaint, however. "Blaze of Glory" is a very good episode, ranking alongside the better episodes of this season.