The wrap-up of one of the most ambitious action/adventure and character development episodes on DS9 seems to be working okay for its first four acts but then jettisons all plausibility and respectability with a complete cheat ending. And, unfortunately, by the time the episode ends, we're left puzzled as to how Odo feels about his experience—a plot line that has a surprising amount of ambiguity. Fortunately, future episodes promise to address Odo's experience. But as far as this episode goes, there's only one word for it—botched.
Sisko and Bashir are reunited with the DS9 crew (less Kira and Odo who are still on Odo's homeworld in the Gamma Quadrant nebula) after their narrow shuttlepod escape from the Defiant. They return to DS9 to find their attempt to get the Founders' attention was successful, for diplomacy is underway, and a peace treaty is all but signed. But something is dead wrong. Sisko is consistently kept in the dark about the entire affair by Admiral Nechayev (Natalija Nogulich, recapping her TNG role as Federation bureaucrat), who intends to oversee the signing of a bogus treaty that would cause denouncements of war from the Romulans, not to mention Starfleet's withdrawal from Bajor and DS9. This leads Sisko and his crew to take matters into their own hands by collapsing the wormhole to keep the Dominion on their side forever.
By this time, we know there's something not right about where the story is going. When Garak is killed in a phaser fight with the Jem'Hadar we know better, because there's no dramatic reasoning behind it and we know the writers wouldn't just kill off Garak for the benefit of an action scene. At the same time, having Sisko collapse the wormhole is unthinkable, because the wormhole is one of the central characteristics of the series.
Back on the shapeshifters' homeworld, Odo finally finds his roots and meets others like him, leading to some necessary shapeshifter backstory and explanations of why Odo was sent away in the first place. Unfortunately, none of this dialogue can live up to part one's illustrious moment when Odo finds himself face-to-face with another shapeshifter (Salome Jens) for the first time. These scenes work for some Odo character moments, but they're just ordinary scenes—not the kind of payoff a buildup like this deserved. They don't hit home on the larger magnitude due to the number of unasked questions and missed opportunities. Besides, we know Odo won't stay there anyway but rather return to DS9 by the end of the episode. Apparently, taking risks with characters can only go so far.
But what really torpedoes this installment is its total cop-out ending, where Odo opens a door on his homeworld to find the captured DS9 team hooked up to mind-probing equipment. A Dominion operative states that he is "conducting an experiment" to see how they would react to a Dominion attempt to get a foot in the Alpha Quadrant. Alas, this frustrating "twist" scene basically renders all dramatic undercurrent of our heroes' decisions useless, because their actions ultimately have no bearing on the outcome whatsoever, nor do they face any of the consequences. (Even though we know the decisions are void simply based on how much they impact the series, this ending is still the nail in the coffin.) For a story of this magnitude, the writers really should've come up with a more appropriate conclusion.
Meanwhile, the revelation that Odo's people are the malevolent leaders of the Dominion makes it all too easy and contrived for Odo to refuse joining them, rather than giving him the chance to make a true decision based on his character's feelings and needs. Also, the writers fail to address how Odo decides to remain as DS9 security chief, leaving it up to us to fill in the answers to the biggest character dilemma presented in part one.
Minus its cheat ending, "Search II" might have been a worthwhile character installment, because the performances are compelling and the dialogue is interesting. Unfortunately, the ending is everything, because it states that everything before it never happened. That just won't fly.
On the upside, Garak's presence supplies some well-timed laughs. Also, Kira and Odo's sibling-like affection for each other is genuinely moving, demonstrated here with some wonderful scenes. Most likely, "The Search" will mark a change in the way Odo looks at himself, others, and life in general. But standing alone, this episode doesn't work.
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