Nutshell: Whew. Another powerhouse. Talk about covering some serious ground.
"Favor the Bold" is a damn near perfect storytelling assembly of just about every major facet of DS9 that comes to mind right now. There's so, so much going on in this world—so many characters to examine, so many issues to address, so much action to carry, and so many relationships to ponder. It's an incredible feat that "Favor the Bold" manages to cover so much ground in a single hour, moving us through huge storytelling events and relaying a number of very compelling character pieces in the process. Every bit of this episode is utterly engrossing; the culmination resulting from the loss of the station in "Call to Arms" is approaching, and it feels very, very real.
The primary sense conveyed in this week's outing was one of a dizzying situation on the brink of spinning out of control into utter apocalyptic mayhem. I'm not just talking about the obvious confrontation between the Federation and Dominion fleets that is destined to happen next week; I'm talking about characters committing themselves to paths that are either going to pay off in the very near future ... or likely get themselves in real trouble or even killed.
The plot centers around what promises to be a key turning point in the war: Damar's field tests for deactivating the minefield have been successful, and he expects the entire minefield can be brought down within a week. Meanwhile, Starfleet, which "needs a big victory," is slowly persuaded by Sisko to group their remaining strong fleets into one massive effort to retake Deep Space Nine.
The plot is a must-see, but what proves more important as the show unfolds—and is the reason the episode is so engrossing—is the way the events flow so believably and appropriately out of the characters and their motivations. We get so see what they're thinking and feeling as the world around them radically unfolds. If there's one thing this war arc has proven, it's that the creators of the series know that the story is not simply about the war, but about the people involved.
Early in the episode, Kira finds out Rom has been sentenced to execution for his acts of treachery against the Dominion. As if Kira didn't already have enough on her mind—with Odo useless to her efforts as he ventures into his own personal agenda and the potential of her small movement being exposed by Dominion interrogation (I suspect it's the Dominion calling the shots, since if it had been the Cardassians Rom would likely have been tortured into submission by now)—now Kira has to worry about the possibility of another death under her resistance "command," because she misplaced her trust with Odo and allowed Rom to face such risky odds. It makes sense that she would use all her Bajoran influence to attempt reasoning with Weyoun, and her frustration and anger are completely understandable when Weyoun refuses to budge.
For that matter, Weyoun came off very three-dimensional this week. Not only did Jeffrey Combs deliver a wonderful performance—Weyoun's facial expressions are one of the most striking and effective aspects of the character—but the writers gave him some good stuff. Little details about the Vorta having no understanding of art or music, the fact that they have poor eyesight but great hearing, really make a difference. The first Weyoun we met in "To the Death" didn't leave me with much of an impression, but ever since "Ties of Blood and Water," the more they do with this guy, the more interesting he is. His actions in the plot aren't simply at odds with Kira's wishes and her hidden agenda—they're understandable from Weyoun's point of view as well. You simply don't release prisoners with Rom's evident destructive capabilities ... and if you're the Dominion you probably do execute them in order to set an example.
I can only think of one minor complaint for this episode (so I might as well get it out of the way), and that's Leeta's ridiculous whimpering at Rom's scheduled execution. The idea is fine—I would expect an emotional reaction from anyone whose spouse was sentenced to die—but Chase Masterson's performance in this scene makes the character even more unwatchable than even Leeta has previously proven capable of—no small task. Rom, on the other hand (if I dare say), comes off surprisingly well, and I actually liked his attitude as conveyed from within his holding cell. He's willing to martyr himself, and tells his brother that no matter what happens, the minefield must not be deactivated. Rather than breaking him out of his cell, Rom wants his brother to focus on getting back in the conduits and disabling Damar's graviton beam. If that means Quark getting caught in the process and being executed alongside his brother, then so be it. For once, Rom doesn't act like a complete dimwit; he's aware of the stakes and willing to act.
Similarly, watching Quark in action proves extremely gratifying. Maintaining his shield of "the neutral barkeep" has earned him an ear to Damar's boasts, and it seems that Damar is now willing to quietly boast almost anything to Quark, whether drunk or not (an interesting difference when compared to last week's "Behind the Lines"). What Damar doesn't know is just how much he has misjudged Quark's apparent "neutrality." Damar tells Quark that the mines will be down in a week, after which Quark quietly relays the information to a very worried and powerless Major Kira—in a sequence that has become commonplace throughout this arc: characters whispering about topics that can't possibly be discussed louder than a whisper. The irony is that Quark is whispering in his own bar.
The only option ("Warn Starfleet," Quark says with quiet urgency) comes about when Jake reveals that he has found a way to get a message to his father—via Morn, of all people, who is going home for his mother's birthday. I think Jake's self-congratulatory coyness over getting a message out was a little overdone given the grim circumstances (although, Jake has shown himself the cocky sort on more than one occasion), but I thoroughly enjoyed the brief, wordless scene where Kira and Quark "recruit" Morn into their plans—very effective.
Anyway, I say that characterization is even more primary than plot because there's so much of it running through the episode. This can be seen in a number of turns relationships take. Dukat and Ziyal, for instance, remain exceptionally complicated and true to character. When Ziyal asks the favor that her father show mercy to the Bajorans by releasing Rom, he can't do it, again driving up that division between them. Ziyal is furious and scornful of her father, yet remains just as naive as ever. She tells Kira she wants nothing to do with him, but Kira knows better to take such words at face value (especially considering how easily Ziyal forgave him in "Sons and Daughters")—Ziyal is angry right now, but when the anger passes it won't seem so clear cut.
Meanwhile, Dukat is intent on making amends, placing his top priority on having his daughter "at his side" when the moment of victory comes. For Dukat, it's a very appropriate notion, because it would make his actions all the easier. He desperately wants acceptance of his actions by somebody close to him. Kira most certainly will have none of it. So Ziyal might best represent Dukat's hope of having his actions validated and supported by a "third party"—and, further, perhaps by a specifically Bajoran third party. His ordering of Damar to try to convince Ziyal to come talk with him is so very telling at how much it means to Dukat and how desperate he has become to feel fully justified and endorsed about his would-be self-heroic course of action.
Then there was Kira beating the living hell out of Damar—a visceral moment that has been building up for weeks. We know these two don't like each other, and Kira's protection of Ziyal is among the most appropriate ways of both bringing it about and simultaneously allowing Kira to vent some of her obvious frustrations. A welcome, if violent, impulse.
Also, the continuance of Odo's self-search proved every bit as interesting as the setup in "Behind the Lines" let on. His introducing the Female Changeling to "solid" sexuality only deepened the sense that he had put himself in real trouble, either uncaring or oblivious to the gravity of his actions in "Behind the Lines." But his subsequent bewildered realization that three days have passed without his knowledge really worries him—suggesting that "oblivious" describes him better than "uncaring"—as if he has been cut off from the world and, until now, left unaware of the severity of his actions. When he finally goes to apologize to Kira for his betrayal, he seems more like the Odo we know. (But Kira's response—basically that "sorry" doesn't come close to cutting it—is completely justified, and shows that this shattered relationship, thankfully, is not going to be magically fixed.)
But, then, I had the Female Changeling pegged all wrong. I figured she came to Odo partly to undermine his position on the station, but here her motives take a startling direction when she informs Weyoun that she had come to the station intent on bringing Odo home—that returning one of their own to the Link means more to the Founders than the entire Alpha Quadrant itself. On the other hand, her discussion with Odo on how "small" the solids now look—to which Odo merely responds, "It's not their fault"—is quite unsettling. The Founders may claim not to care about "having" the Alpha Quadrant, but they do certainly want to control it. Such control is frightening; the power the Female Founder has over Weyoun is almost eerie. (Weyoun: "I didn't mean any disrespect." Founder: "Of course you didn't. You are what you are." Yikes.) And while Odo may be a little more aware of what's going on in the "solid" universe than he did previously, his perspectives have most assuredly changed.
Then there's Captain Sisko, who, with a statement that is arguably central to the entire arc, had one of the show's best scenes. His speech about coming home to Bajor was a wonderful, sincere emotional highlight. The sense conveyed here is one that looks beyond the war—one man's hope kept alive that Bajor will survive and thrive, and that he intends to live to see that day. His voicing to Admiral Ross of his intention to build a house on Bajor was an extremely moving moment that puts the dialog near the top of all the series' impassioned speeches. It's very reassuring material—for even in the middle of all this action and despair, Sisko (and the writers) still hold the hopes for the future of Bajor in the back of their minds.
Some other subtle touches are certainly welcome, like the consistency of Damar's pride. The line where he says to Dukat, "[Weyoun] should speak to you with more respect," is very like what we've seen of Damar in recent episodes. There's also an amusing scene where Dukat points out to Weyoun the mines outside the station as they're individually deactivated. Looking out the window, Weyoun can't see the glows with those poor Vorta eyes of his. His "I'll take your word for it" was great considering how excited Dukat certainly hoped Weyoun would be to finally know the minefield was being disabled. There are a lot of nice touches like that, and the little dialog exchanges fit in with the large, thematic events to make a very satisfying whole. When Winrich Kolbe is directing (his first DS9 helming since fourth season's "Our Man Bashir"), it's hard to complain.
Running through all the smaller character stories is a consistent core: the sense that large changes are imminent, and that each person must choose his or her path and be ready to fulfill his or her role. Kira's beating of Damar was too overt a move for her to hide her intentions any longer. Quark will have to do something about his brother since he won't be able to do anything about the mines. Ziyal will have to decide where she stands concerning her father. Dukat will bring down the minefield, with or without his daughter's support, and then he'll possibly find his position in the Dominion hierarchy challenged or tested. Odo is going to have to figure out where his loyalties lie, for not being forgiven by Kira certainly woke up at least part of his old self. And Sisko and the fleet are ready to engage in battle.
In the words of Sisko, "Fortune favors the bold." Here's hoping "The Sacrifice of Angels" shall choose to be bold enough to wrap some of this up as skillfully as the setup has prepared it.
Next week: One location. One battle. The Federation's survival depends upon the sacrifice of angels.