It's a little difficult to say much that's relevant about an episode like "Change of Heart," simply because there isn't a whole heck of a lot to say. If I wanted to be incredibly concise rather than stretching this review out to 1,000 words with needless filler, I probably could do so without taking anything away from the big picture.
But isn't that kind of what "Change of Heart" did? Stretched the show out to an hour by using filler? A show that probably could've said what it needed to say in half the screen time?
"Change of Heart" is a pleasant hour of DS9 fluff that features a finale with some poignant relevance. The end result is definitely not opaque and hardly challenging. But at the same time, I think it said some things that needed saying. I've stated on many occasions that Worf and Dax as a couple haven't compelled me mainly because the writers haven't made the relationship ... well, affectionate enough. Much of Worf/Dax has boiled down to clichés with an occasional one-liner or sentiment that works.
So let's cut to the chase: The one overwhelming bit of relevance to "Change of Heart" is its ending, in which Worf—who has been forced to leave Dax behind after she was critically injured during a crucial intelligence mission—decides he must put his wife first and duty second by abandoning his mission so he can get his wife medical attention. I'll admit that the inevitable outcome of this episode was about as predictable as they come, but it did finally show where Worf's priorities were, and, for once, the Worf/Dax relationship worked for me on an emotional level.
There's a good scene at the end, where Sisko asks Worf what happened, and Worf explains—he gave up the mission to save Jadzia. The mission was of utmost importance and the defector's information might've been capable of saving millions of lives. But it just didn't matter—Jadzia came first. The ending is interesting because it seems to show just what Worf was risking by making his choice. By all accounts, he should be facing court martial for ignoring duty. (Starfleet won't risk exposing their intelligence strategies by doing so, however.) And Sisko's sobering prediction that Starfleet will probably not offer Worf a command as a result of the incident strikes me as a pretty significant consequence to come out of the episode. But most important is that this finally manages to make me believe that Worf loves Dax; the sentiment transcends the feeling I usually have that I'm just watching the lovers' actions as conjured by a writer. I especially liked that Worf fully accepted the consequences, and spelled out in dialog that he would do it again if he had to make the choice between his wife and his duty.
Unfortunately, this sentiment doesn't quite overcome its own painfully obvious inevitability. And most of the rest of the episode is filler material—not pointless, but not exactly essential, either. There's quite a bit of trivial Worf/Dax dialog. I thought a lot of it worked, though it was in no danger of being particularly compelling. The early scenes do a good job of balancing cuteness and marital bickering. And finally seeing Worf lighten up is refreshing, including the emergence of his reluctant sense of humor. (Worf: "I have a sense of humor. On the Enterprise I was considered to be quite amusing." Dax: "That must've been one dull ship." Worf: "That is a joke! I get it. It is not funny, but I get it.")
Still more filler includes a Runabout flight through an asteroid belt (otherwise known as "DS9 does The Empire Strikes Back"), which was visually neat but not exactly important. And the episode's Quiet Dialog Scenes are simultaneously pleasant, plentiful, and non-essential.
The details of the actual plot aren't all that important, but they set the premise in motion with some reasonable and plausible intrigue. Worf and Dax's secret assignment is to rendezvous with a Cardassian informant named Lasaran (Todd Waring) who wants to defect. I've always found the idea of internal turmoil on Cardassia intriguing, mostly because I don't think everyone there is happy as a Dominion puppet. Lasaran's brief role in the story is evidence of just that—plus, his up-front distaste of his potential rescuers and his very-Cardassian arrogance prove convincing.
I am, however, going to have to register a minor complaint about the way the plots recently have been teasing with their purports of relevance and rarely carrying through. Such plot pieces almost always have something to do with the DS9 current events, yet they rarely end up having a lasting impact. I was genuinely interested by the kind of intelligence information that Lasaran could've offered to the Federation, but since the main drive of the story was the love versus duty angle, Lasaran's doomed fate was basically never in doubt. I think DS9 needs to return to substantive plotting that adds to the canvas, because such plotting has often been the real strength of the series. We haven't received much "true" story-building material since "Sacrifice of Angels." Sure, there have been a number of interesting little pieces that have dwelled in the background, but I'm beginning to thirst for something that will matter in the long run as well as the short.
The B-story—in which O'Brien coaches Bashir to play a game of tongo against Quark—is standard, inconsequential subplot fluff, though it manages to connect itself to the main plot reasonably by way of a scene where Quark distracts Bashir from his game with the somber musing over how both Bashir and himself have lost Jadzia to Worf. The sentiment is interesting, if a bit belated. I rather liked Quark's answer to Bashir's question of whether Quark meant what he said or if he was just trying to take advantage of Bashir's resulting distraction: "Doctor, you don't expect me to show you all my cards."
There's not much else to say. Overall, this is a transparent episode that doesn't ask you to think much. Then again, love, by nature, isn't really a subject that demands us to think. Not to be completely clichéd, but "Change of Heart" is a tale of the heart (and it even has "heart" in the title). On that level it works okay, though it's firmly grounded in the routine.Next week: A rerun of "Favor the Bold." The fragmented repeat schedule of the six-part story arc doesn't strike me as logical, but, hey, what can you do?