Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"By Inferno's Light"

***1/2

Air date: 2/17/1997
Written by Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by Les Landau

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Think of it—five years ago no one had ever heard of Bajor or Deep Space Nine. Now all our hopes rest here. Where the tides of fortune take us no man will know."
"Very tricky, those tides."

— Gowron and Sisko

Nutshell: Not perfect, but quite good. This show certainly shatters the status quo rather nicely.

To successfully and plausibly resolve the behemoth of a plot that was "In Purgatory's Shadow" is a tall order, to be sure. "By Inferno's Light" does it well. Not perfectly, perhaps—part one of this story is clearly stronger than this half is, both in style and character—but there are so many interesting consequences and developments to come out of "Inferno" that the show works very nicely.

If there's one thing that this episode proves, it's that major storylines on DS9 never simply go away or get resolved. Rather, they undergo metamorphoses and become twisted into labyrinthine webs of political intrigue. In a big way, I like that. It seems that anything is possible, because it's hard to know who will be on whose side from one month to the next. Still, at the same time, it's a tad frustrating to have so many threads hanging around and entangling each other with no resolution in sight. A tad frustrating, perhaps, but also very interesting.

As the Dominion enters the Alpha Quadrant, they cast a brief, intimidating stare in DS9's direction and then turn straight for Cardassia. (Note: This seems very consistent with Sisko's vision in "Rapture" of locusts that were to go to Cardassia first before "destroying Bajor unless it stands alone." Quite interesting.) The big surprise of the episode: Gul Dukat is joining them to escort them to Cardassia.

You see, Cardassia is joining the Dominion.

And I thought the revelations in part one were unpredictable.

As radical as this shocking notion is, it makes perfect sense when looking at all the past material. Dukat hates the Klingons for what they've done, he hates Cardassia's current state of paralysis, he hates the Maquis, and he fears the Dominion. With one swift stroke (after months of secret negotiation between Cardassia and the Dominion) Dukat's solution will make Cardassia strong, force the Klingons to leave, force the Maquis to abandon their colonies in Cardassian space, and make allies out of the biggest threat of all.

That, my friends, is one hell of a package deal, and it changes nearly everything on the series.

Before I continue discussing the implications of this event, I'll first discuss the plot at hand, because there are quite a few plot-based issues set up in "Purgatory" that "Inferno" obviously had to put to rest—and for the most part, the plot pulled itself together fairly well.

While Sisko & Co. is dealing with the home front, Worf, Garak, and Bashir begin devising an escape plan. They hope to use Tain's rigged communication device in the wall panel of their cell to contact the Runabout for a beam-out. I wouldn't call this plot spectacular or imaginative as these things go, but the way Behr and Wolfe's teleplay handles the details is commendable.

One notion worthy of praise is the way the different prisoners share a common interest and a common enemy. Outside a Dominion facility it seems likely that these different people—Romulans, Klingons, Cardassians, humans, and Breen—would not be on the best of terms given the political situations between their respective homelands. But under the Dominion's thumb, they easily put aside their differences to accomplish a common goal. The plan is a team project that effectively displays everyone keeping composure under high pressure.

Garak in particular has to cope with the pressure. He's the only one with the technical knowledge, and even he has limited skills. He has to quietly and quickly work inside a small, dark, hot, enclosed area of space. And on top of that, he's claustrophobic.

Meanwhile, Worf is forced to fight Jem'Hadar soldiers in hand-to-hand combat "tournaments" that progress in difficulty from one match to the next. Worf's part of the story is nothing that hasn't been done before, but I'm still convinced that Michael Dorn and the writers have a firm grip on Worf as a character, and everything that happens here is in tune with that.

Naturally, the events back at DS9 are what demand more attention. With a shapeshifter roaming the station, Starfleet dispatching ships to the area, and Dukat making threats directly to Sisko (demanding Bajor and the Federation return the station to Cardassia or else the Dominion will destroy it), the plot truly feels like a countdown to Armageddon. The entire episode crescendos with increasing tension and suspense to what promises to be a final confrontation.

And the entire Alpha Quadrant seems to be involved. The Dominion promptly drives the Klingon presence out of Cardassian space, at which point the Klingons fall back to DS9. Sisko wisely takes advantage of the situation, asking Gowron to consider revitalizing the Khitomer Accords—the Klingon/Federation peace treaty. (Gowron's words aptly reveal how sweeping changes like these can come so swiftly unexpectedly: "Five years ago no one had ever heard of Bajor or Deep Space Nine. Now all our hopes rest here. Where the tides of fortune take us no man will know.")

The episode drops another surprise upon us when a group of Romulan ships decloaks, requesting to join the fleet. Again, this is an interesting example of different groups putting aside their differences to benefit the larger picture. I found myself saying aloud "United we stand, divided we fall" at this point in the show, because it fit the circumstances so well. Sure, that may sound like a bit of a cliche, but it is a compelling—and also true—ideal. The idea of the entire Alpha Quadrant making a stand against the Dominion is something that I would suppose even the Dominion might have second thoughts about. It also makes Dukat look like the lone sell-out of the lot. (Sisko even flat-out tells Dukat that he has "sold out his people to the Dominion." Dukat merely retorts that he has made Cardassia strong again.)

Dukat's actions speak for themselves. They virtually completely turn the character around from someone we could sympathize with earlier in the season (the Dukat who was fighting the Klingons in the name of Cardassia) back into an opportunist who is more interested in pure strength for Cardassia than freedom or independence. (I'm very intrigued at how exactly Cardassia will operate under Dominion rule.)

Like Kira said to Ziyal in part one, you can only judge a person for their actions, and Dukat's actions speak the words of a coward and an opportunist. Instead of standing against the Dominion with the rest of the Alpha Quadrant, Dukat has made a bad situation potentially worse for possibly everyone (I can't imagine that everyone on Cardassia supports being run by the Dominion). He even disowns his daughter and accepts that she will die with everyone else on DS9. He may as well have sold his soul, as far as I'm concerned.

But that's the point, isn't it? To make Dukat a bad guy again and reinstate some of the "edge" he used to have before he became more sympathetic. It certainly works. From here on (unless, of course, something equally impacting happens concerning Cardassia) I can't imagine ever seeing Dukat in a situation that's not confrontational.

By the same token, suddenly the Klingons are back on "our" side (Gowron signs the treaty), and even the Romulans look less menacing and more reasonable than before. What's so compelling about the myriad of agreements is to look back and see how intertwined different events caused different groups to take the sides they did. Everything here is connected if you trace the plot lines, and I find that fascinating. A year and a half ago the Federation condemned the Klingons because they invaded Cardassian space. Now the Klingons come back to the Federation because the Cardassians (a subset of which tried to destroy the Dominion two years ago, by the way) have joined the Dominion and threaten to destroy the Klingons.

These large-scale events are compelling, and the build up of the whole episode to a final-act event is good edge-of-seat suspense. Unfortunately, the ending of "Inferno" is less than I had hoped given the two hours of setup. It works absolutely wonderfully when you consider the long-term implications and future shows, but something about the actual events of the finale isn't quite right.

I think the problem is that it tries to compact the climax into five minutes of air time. The ending feels a bit... rushed. The whole chess game turns out to be pivoting on one Changeling infiltrator assigned to execute the Master Plan. But in order for the Changeling to be exposed, the real Bashir has to escape from the Dominion prison and warn the station. Naturally, Bashir and his party escapes at the very last second—nicely executed for a "close call" countdown, but awfully convenient if you think about it. (Why, for example, would the Runabout still be orbiting the prison facility? Are the Jem'Hadar that stupid?) Meanwhile, the colossal, imminent attack by the Dominion turns out to be a ruse to hide the Bashir-Changeling's true mission—to trigger the supernova of Bajor's star, destroying Bajor, DS9, and half the Klingon, Romulan, and Starfleet fleets. Bashir's warning comes just in the nick of time, and Kira is able to stop the Runabout before it explodes.

Bashir's escape from prison works fairly well (even if the execution was a little abrupt), because the plot had, after all, spent a good part of the hour setting it up. Likewise, the Changeling's plan stands to reason under scrutiny. It certainly makes strategic sense that the Dominion would try to take out DS9 and half the fleet, as Sisko says, "without firing a single shot."

Still, I wish more time would've been spent on revealing the Changeling saboteur than on fight scenes between Worf and Jem'Hadar soldiers. Couldn't the shapeshifter have been discovered by the crew by means more interesting than Bashir's deus ex machina warning?

Also, the disappearance of the danger was just a little too abrupt for my tastes. Going from "Stop that Changeling at all costs!" to "Armageddon will have to wait for another day" to a quiet scene between Garak and Ziyal within barely two minutes of screen time brings down the sense of urgency and doom far too quickly and easily to make it feel genuine.

Such complaints about the plot are minor when considering the great developments this episode brings to the big picture. I like to see things happen, and in "By Inferno's Light" lots of things do happen. Sure, the violent confrontation that seemed imminent a week ago and inevitable for two and a half years may have been averted, but there are so many changes in the overall storyline that the situation is more perverted than probably could've been imagined. This is what makes DS9 so riveting as a series. It's unpredictable on such a large scale. Yet what appears to be a huge political mess has rational reasons for taking place. I'm extremely interested in seeing what will happen next.

Previous episode: In Purgatory's Shadow
Next episode: Doctor Bashir, I Presume

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26 comments on this review

TH - Sat, Nov 29, 2008 - 6:14am (USA Central)
One thing that always bothered me about this episode is that if a photon torpedo could disrupt the wormhole, wouldn't the supernova of the Bajoran sun, enough to destroy DS9 right next door, have some negative consequence on the wormhole too? And don't the dominion need that thing working right?
Jayson - Wed, Dec 3, 2008 - 5:43pm (USA Central)
If I remember correctly, in order to collapse the wormhole something specific was required to make it collapse. Oh yeah, besides the Changelings sabotage according to Obrien only made the wormhole more stable so I doubt a super nova would have done anything.
MP - Sat, Jun 6, 2009 - 6:28pm (USA Central)
Plus, it was "closed" when not in use. The whole torpedo thing was about the weapons being fired into it while it was open.
Jay - Fri, Sep 4, 2009 - 10:35pm (USA Central)
TH hit upon the gaping plot hole that would make this episode lose a whole star at least (pardon the pun).
Jay - Fri, Sep 4, 2009 - 10:37pm (USA Central)
The wormhole is still "there" even when it's closed. And I doubt a supernova explosion and shockwave would leave it unaffected.
J - Fri, Oct 9, 2009 - 5:15am (USA Central)
I believe the changeling's sabotage that led to reinforcement of the wormhole was part of the plan. Both closed and stabilized, it is only reasonable that the wormhole is not as vulnerable as the station or surface of the planet would be. I am also not entirely certain how much further away from the star the station is, but I get the impression from the pilot that it moved a considerable distance further away.

I do think it is an interesting implication of the plot that the changeling was, it seems, going to die as part of pulling off the plan. They condemn Odo for killing another changeling, but evidently destroying the targets gathered in Bajor Sector was of enough value for them to sacrifice on of their own.
Jay - Sun, Feb 21, 2010 - 1:06pm (USA Central)
@ J...

It's possible that the changeling could somehow survive it...we did learn in Season 7's Chimera that a changeling can actually exist as fire (though admittedly I found myself skeptical of that notion).
Nic - Sat, Mar 20, 2010 - 11:22pm (USA Central)
This of course is pure sci-fi (rather than scientific) speculation, but when the wormhole was discovered it was 160 million Km from Bajor, which is only slightly farther away than the distance between Earth and its sun. That distance varies of course due to orbits (does the wormhole orbit around Bajor's sun? That's a good question), but the fact remains that the wormhole would be affected by a supernova explosion.

No episode could live up to "In Purgatory's Shadow" but I think this one comes quite close, despite its rushed ending.
MIke - Sat, Sep 17, 2011 - 9:40pm (USA Central)
There was also that episode where Odo essentially turned into light (or at least some luninescent gas) and surrounded Kira...presumably as either of those a changeling could survive the supernova.
Jack - Sat, Oct 8, 2011 - 6:28pm (USA Central)
Hmmm...I suppose that Native American colnoy in Cardassian space from TNG's "Journey's End" was among those annihilated here...
Jay - Sat, Oct 15, 2011 - 10:51pm (USA Central)
Several times it was mentioned that Garak was the only one that could do the work, but since Bashir is revealed to have been genetically enhanced in the very next episode, he probably could have stepped in, either from scratch, or with at most a crash lesson from Garak in what to do.
Snitch - Tue, May 1, 2012 - 10:20pm (USA Central)
Epic episode, the ending yeah, it little bit too positive still, 4 stars from me.

The whole prison scenes were great.
Romeo - Fri, Aug 3, 2012 - 8:27pm (USA Central)
Why would a changeling be willing to sacrifice himself? It makes no sense. The Founders have consistently placed solids on a lower level than themselves so I can't imagine this changeling would be expected to die to kill a few solids. Also, Odo was on the space station and would have been killed by the supernova - so they would also have broken their "no changeling has ever killed another" rule (so two changelings killed in this one 'attack').


Also, this would have been a relatively minor battle to win (the Federation, Klingons and Romulans would have lost a lot of ships, but presumably it was only a tiny percentage of the entire combined fleets of 3 major super powers).

Furthermore, it makes even less sense when you consider that the Founders are essentially immortal.

I love Star Trek, but illogical plot lines like this make me cringe.

Thanks!

R.
William - Wed, Nov 21, 2012 - 10:03pm (USA Central)
Fantastic two-parter. I missed this during the first run of the show back in the '90s, and it's been a blast filling in the gaps in my DS9 viewing history.

I agree the last chapter of the two-parter felt rushed, but otherwise, bull's-eye.
Nick - Thu, May 16, 2013 - 6:28pm (USA Central)
The wormhole can only be destroyed when it is open, and it can be opened when an object enters a very small, very specific area of space, and even then, only from the correct angle.

If the wormhole's aperture wasn't face towards the Bajoran sun the supernova wave wouldn't affect it, and it would not open. Therefore, it couldn't be destroyed by the wave.
ProgHead777 - Tue, Jul 30, 2013 - 1:30am (USA Central)
@Jay
"The wormhole is still "there" even when it's closed. And I doubt a supernova explosion and shockwave would leave it unaffected."

This is a science fantasy television show where the laws of physics are bent, broken or completely ignored altogether whenever and wherever the plot needs them to be. You can't say "I doubt a supernova explosion and shockwave would leave it unaffected" because there are no scientific principles either in the real world (where wormholes may or may not exist, but if they do, they are NOTHING like any wormholes depicted in Star Trek) or in the background technobabble lore of the show. The wormhole would have been fine BECAUSE Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe say so, and when it comes to Trek Science, it is whatever the writers say it is. The only time you can cry foul is when the technobabble contradicts itself and, let's face it, that happens ALL THE TIME on Star Trek.
Jack - Sun, Sep 1, 2013 - 1:29pm (USA Central)
Since the events of "Destiny", the wormhole is never really closed.
Kotas - Thu, Oct 24, 2013 - 9:51pm (USA Central)

Amazing episode. This one has it all: huge story implications, great character development, worf fighting, Garak and Dukat being Garak and Dukat. I could go on. Best episode of the series so far.

10/10
Anonymous - Tue, Nov 5, 2013 - 7:32pm (USA Central)
It was a nice touch to make Garak claustrophobic. Considering how Andrew Robinson himself is actually claustrophobic which almost prevented him from playing Garak on DS9.
Jay - Tue, Nov 19, 2013 - 11:05am (USA Central)
It would have been nice to have a callback to some benevolent Cardassians we've met before who try to defect out of Cardassia after this takeover. The two female scientists from "Destiny" come to mind.
Josh - Tue, Nov 19, 2013 - 6:04pm (USA Central)
@Jay: I recently read a book called "The Never-Ending Sacrifice" (by Una McCormack) which covers most events on Cardassia from the perspective of Rugal, the Cardassian boy raised by Bajorans from the second season episode "Cardassians".

It's an excellent book, adding richness to a Trek culture already amongst the most intriguing and well developed. Through Rugal's eyes we see the aftermath of the fall of the Obsidian Order and the accession of civilian rule. And we learn that Dukat's deal with the Dominion lead to a bloody coup and purge of civilian authorities. We even see the messy aftermath of the Dominion War on both humans and Cardassians.

It really transcends what we might think of as a "Star Trek" book, more closely resembling the epic sweep of a historical novel. It also illustrates the missed opportunity that was the failure to tell more stories of the aftermath of the war (instead we got Star Trek: Nemesis).

www.amazon.ca/Star-Trek-Space-Ending-Sacrifice/dp/1439109613
Paul - Mon, Feb 3, 2014 - 4:08pm (USA Central)
I watched this yesterday (before the Super Bowl) and the logical problems are just too much. The fact that the Jem Hadar left the runabout within transporter range of the prison just makes no sense. But, beyond that, why was security so lax at the prison?

There's no reason why Bashir, Garak, Marton and Worf (and the others) would have been allowed so much time to plot their escape. Other than Worf (and Martok, before Worf arrived) the Dominion doesn't do anything with the prisoners. Shouldn't they be interrogated for information?

Beyond that, the prisoners could have all been held in isolation, in stasis or, frankly, they could have been killed. If the Dominion didn't plan on interrogating them, the only prisoner with any value was Worf. At least, the Jem Hadar used him to train.

The other issue I have has to do with the logic of the last few minutes (and Jammer is right -- they were rushed):

- Bashir et. al escape
- They send a message to the station
- Sisko asks for Bashir's last known location
- He learns it was on the runabout pad

Without hesitation, Sisko then contacts Kira and tells her to destroy the runabout. But, how did Sisko know that the message from the Gamma Quadrant wasn't a fake?

Consider that Sisko tells Kira to destroy the runabout BEFORE they learn that it's on a direct course for the Bajoran sun. Now, maybe Sisko/Kira could have figured out what was happening if they saw the runabout heading toward the sun, but after?

Also, why didn't anybody notice the runabout being out of formation?
Kyle - Thu, Feb 6, 2014 - 11:00pm (USA Central)
I'm surprised the runabout was still there waiting to beam them up. Doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.
Jay - Thu, Feb 20, 2014 - 4:19pm (USA Central)
@ Josh

Thanks!. That sounds like an interesting read!
Jack - Fri, Feb 21, 2014 - 9:25am (USA Central)
O'Brien states that 4 weeks is "over a month"...a Bajoran month (and thus year) must be shorter than ours.
Vylora - Thu, Feb 27, 2014 - 5:17pm (USA Central)
The final scenes of this two-parter were a bit rushed leading them to feel near anticlimactic. The sacrifice of the changeling and the possibility of destroying the wormhole by its actions are seemingly left to interpretation and don't detract from the story.

An explanation on why the runabout was left in orbit of the internment camp would have been nice. Maybe the Dominion fleet had bigger problems to contend with - thus leaving the runabout unattended in their arrogant belief that no escape would occur.

Speculation aside, this was one of the great two-parters of ST. Everything clicked in the right place. From the dialogue to the sweeping changes in the political landscape to relevant character revelations big and small. Kudos.

4 stars each.

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