Since I originally wrote this review, I've had some minor changes of opinion and now rate the episode at three stars. To see the reasons for this change, find the capsule review in the Fifth Season Recap. Below is the orignial review of the episode, which at the time I rated at 2 1/2 stars.
Nutshell: Not bad, but not great, either. The ending in particular could've benefited from more power.
I like the Maquis. I really do. I think they are among DS9's most interesting and underutilized milieu. They're a group that doesn't fall into "bad guys" or "good guys"—they're simply angry people with a problem who are determined to do whatever it takes to try to solve it. It's an interesting issue that has led to some interesting episodes, like "The Maquis," for example.
However, despite the welcome return to the Maquis storyline, "For the Uniform" is a show that resides in the neutral zone for me. As much as I like the Maquis and the issues surrounding them, the overall results of "For the Uniform" are less than I had hoped. The show certainly isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it isn't particularly great, either. It's just kind of there, with its various strengths and weaknesses.
The episode is a follow-up to last season's "For the Cause," which ended with DS9's Starfleet Security Chief Michael Eddington escaping the station to join the Maquis which he had been apparently conspiring with for months.
"For the Uniform" centers around Sisko's obsessive need to track down Eddington and bring him in—a back-burner task he has been working on for eight months, and without success. While it seems strange to me that Starfleet would assign one of the busiest captains in Starfleet a task that is so time-consuming, the idea of a cat-and-mouse game between Sisko and a traitor who served under him is an interesting one.
The show is strongest in its early acts, beginning with an undercover Sisko beaming down to a colony in the DMZ to meet a Maquis informant who supposedly has information on the whereabouts of Eddington, only to be surprised and captured by... Eddington.
The show's early polemic is effective, even if familiar; Eddington explains his quarrel is with the Cardassians, telling Sisko that he's on the "wrong side" with Starfleet and to take a look at the starving victims of the struggle. The victims, Sisko retorts, are Eddington's victims—victims who have been sold on a dream that will never be realized. This opening scene precisely highlights a quality of the Maquis that is most interesting—a group with a cause and a higher purpose, but a group misguided led by a leader whose true goals are more sensational and superficial than the cause lends itself.
From here, the episode proceeds into the action, as the Defiant chases Eddington's raider across the DMZ, until Eddington unleashes his flagship of surprises: Complete sabotage of the Defiant computer core, which turns the ship defenseless, requiring weeks of computer reprogramming.
One of the episode's highlights is the way Eddington always manages to remain a step ahead of Sisko and the Defiant. This leads Starfleet to finally take Sisko off the mission and send in Captain Sanders (Eric Pierpoint) of the USS Malinche. Sisko is not pleased, and it's easy to see why. If there's one thing that's completely believable in "For the Uniform," it's that Sisko could and would take Eddington's betrayal personally. It's not simply that Eddington is a traitor that makes Sisko's skin crawl; it's that Eddington betrayed Starfleet under Sisko's watch.
So as one could imagine, as Eddington's reign of terror continues and the Malinche shows no signs of success, it doesn't take long for Sisko to take the initiative and the Defiant to delve back into the thick of the action (against orders, naturally). The only problem is that O'Brien's necessary repairs to the Defiant computers are nowhere near finished; a large variety of common tasks will have to be done manually, putting the Defiant at quite a combat disadvantage.
When O'Brien says manually, he means manually. A simple matter of piloting the ship away from DS9 requires minutes of tedious effort, intensely precise bridge crew interaction, and improvised communication between the bridge and engine room. In a word, this idea of a crippled Defiant is clever. I've never seen anything quite like it. Every crew member assumes their post and reads aloud mouthfuls of tactical information. The acting and directing required to pull this off—with everyone talking simultaneously using such jargon-filled dialog—should not be overlooked. The skillfulness of the execution is dead-on; and watching the crew perform under such bizarre pressure is a fairly neat idea.
On the other hand, this is not really all that effective on a storytelling level. Yes, it puts the Defiant in more hazard and raises the stakes; but the amount of tactical jargon here is staggering, and it goes on for far too long. Given the story potential, it seems odd that writer Peter Allan Fields (scripting his first episode of DS9 since second season) would spend so much time on it when more important and interesting dialog concerning the delicate situation could've been highlighted instead.
Eddington's actions and cleverness are far more interesting. He gets the best of Sanders with a surprise attack that disables the Malinche. Then he continues to taunt Sisko with a point that has more truth than Sisko would care to admit: Sisko has made a key error by making the conflict personal and allowing his obsession to get the better of him (Eddington tauntingly labels Sisko "Inspector Javert"—after a literary character who destroyed himself by pursuing for years a man who stole a loaf of bread). Eddington goes on to use a chemical weapon on a Cardassian colony, forcing them to evacuate a planet—then escapes Sisko's clutches by disabling an evacuating Cardassian ship whose hands will die if Sisko doesn't rescue them—turning his attention away from Eddington long enough for the traitor to flee. "They're only Cardassians," Eddington says dryly, before waving a taunting bye-bye and getting away once again.
The unfriendly rivalry, tactical maneuvering, and clever escapes are among "For the Uniform's" strengths, but these events are window dressing for a story that doesn't say enough about its situation (and nothing much new), and has an ending that isn't as powerful as it could've been. Sisko captures Eddington by threatening to release chemical torpedoes on a Maquis colony, forcing evacuation and making it inhabitable for human life. Eddington thinks Sisko is bluffing. Sisko orders the word fire and poisons the planet for 50 years. After seeing Sisko is playing hardball, Eddington finally surrenders.
It's a brutal move on Sisko's part, as he turns thousands of Maquis settlers into homeless refugees. The problem here is that the episode sides with Sisko's notion to become the "villain" and make Eddington's surrender a "heroic" martyr move in the eyes of the Maquis. It's a neat package, perhaps, but a neat package is not what I look for in a Maquis storyline.
The episode doesn't seem to take a real stance on the Maquis issue. On one hand we have Eddington cruising around raising hell, and on the other hand we have Sisko, who is defying orders and risking his crew in a crippled starship in order to satisfy a personal vendetta. Shades of grey are good, but "For the Uniform" is ultimately about the black-and-white issue of the vendetta that sides with Sisko because he's Sisko, the hero of DS9, not because his actions are "right."
That's unfortunate. By simplifying the story to "Sisko vs. Eddington," Fields doesn't push as many dramatic buttons as he could've. A grey-area story steps up to the plate several times in the course of the episode; but the pitch never comes, and that's too bad. (Speaking of pitching, why didn't Fields use baseball as a way for Sisko to work out his frustration? The boxing example comes across as a bit of a cliché, and not really in tune with Sisko's character.)
The real problem with the ending is that Sisko's actions don't have any consequences. The show lets Sisko off the hook far too easily. After all the defiance of orders and the poisoning of the planet, it seems that Starfleet will simply pat Sisko on the back for capturing Eddington. Never mind Eddington's relevant speech: Sisko's obsession has clouded his thoughts on the real issue. What if Eddington hadn't turned himself in? Would Sisko really turn his rages into destroying the Maquis by poisoning all the DMZ planets, or is simply bluffing? The episode doesn't make it clear.
The answers to those questions don't really exist in the first place, mainly because Sisko and Dax are able to psychoanalyze Eddington into predicting his "hero vs. villain" thought pattern. Is that all this is about? Eddington having a martyr complex? Is that the real reason he defected to the Maquis in "For the Cause"? I thought he had perhaps a deeper purpose that would be explained in "For the Uniform." I never understood what exactly led him to get personally involved in the Maquis plight, and after this episode I still don't understand.
On an entertainment level, there's a lot to be said for "For the Uniform," because both Avery Brooks and Kenneth Marshall are engaging in their verbal sparring, and Sisko's turn to villainy at the end is scarily convincing, even if not completely appropriate. The show could've been so much more with a better ending, but, as is, it comes up a bit short.