Nutshell: Very entertaining ... but also quite contrived. I'm thinking some interesting things will come out of this episode, but I'm also thinking some other things will go unrealized.
"Sacrifice of Angels" is wonderfully entertaining in a vast number of ways, and in a vacuum it would easily be worth three-and-a-half stars in my book. But, as the wrap-up (to a certain extent) of so many issues that this arc has presented, it demands to be scrutinized more heavily than a stand-alone action-adventure outing. To that end, "Sacrifice of Angels" also comes with a few noteworthy disappointments. I definitely enjoyed this episode a great deal, but there was just so much plot and action spinning out of control trying to rectify itself—and, while most of it worked, some aspects centering around the characters were left ambivalent or in some cases even a bit shallow.
This outing is primarily an all-out action-adventure installment. The only problem with all-out action is that the resolution to huge problems holding dire consequences often comes down to the microcosmic actions of a few key people, and those people are usually led around the story by contrived circumstances. "Sacrifice of Angels" is no exception; this is an episode that depends much more on the mechanics of the plot than it does its characters. Now, there's nothing inherently bad about that; in fact, "Sacrifice" manages the plot about as well as I could've expected given how much "Favor the Bold" stacked the cards against the survival of the Federation. But, at the same time, much of this episode is a good example of "comic-book DS9"—lots of fun, action, and heroism, but not as much depth as the situation was capable of.
The plot is a "race against the clock" paradigm. The Federation fleet needs to get some ships to DS9 before Dukat brings down the minefield (which is in a mere matter of hours). But with the Dominion fleet in their path, Starfleet is going to have to punch through the lines with a major fight, taking some serious losses in the process.
First, a few words about the space battle sequences. How should I put it? They weren't simply "awesome," they were "AWESOME!"—absolutely beautiful. You thought the sequences in "The Die Is Cast" were spectacular? And then "Way of the Warrior"? And then "Shattered Mirror"? And then "Call to Arms"? Well, this episode outdoes them all. I don't believe I've ever seen special effects of this caliber on a television production. These sequences are feature-film good. And they aren't simply good in the technical sense—they're also great in the visceral sense, effective at conveying the utter Pandemonium and sense of urgency facing the Defiant's attempts to race through the Dominion's front line. And the Klingons' nicely-timed arrival to the fight—as obvious as "Favor the Bold" set it up to happen—had me cheering. We're talking some serious panache here.
Meanwhile, back station-side, Damar arrests Kira, Jake, and Leeta as a precaution because he suspects Rom didn't act alone in the attempted sabotage. This puts the fate of the Alpha Quadrant in Quark's hands (Quark?); he's the only member of Kira's resistance not sitting in a cell, and someone needs to carry out Kira's last-minute plan of disabling the station's power system so that the dismantling of the minefield will be delayed.
The station-side plot unfolds on relatively simple terms, consisting of a jailbreak, a chase scene, and a race to disable the station before the minefield can be destroyed. There are some good dialog scenes along the way, especially between Weyoun and Dukat as they discuss the policy of ruling their conquered territories. Dukat's attitude that a conquered enemy should admit their being wrong for opposing their conquerors in the first place is particularly appropriate for him.
Quark and Ziyal break their allies out of jail in a scene that strains credulity but is entertaining nonetheless. I liked Quark's clever way of rendering the Cardassian guard unconscious; and I liked even better when he phasered the two Jem'Hadar guards, and especially his silent, stunned reaction to his own action. Scenes like this are good; I've always liked the serious side of Quark, and Armin Shimerman is always interesting to watch in these sorts of binds.
Odo's role in the game takes an expected turn, and if there's one significant weak link in this episode (and thus the whole war arc in retrospect) it's the extreme oversimplification of Odo's betrayal and subsequent redemption. While it's a good thing that "Favor the Bold" last week made it clear Odo was not so completely won over by the Female Founder as "Behind the Lines" had initially indicated, the way events unfold here only serve to make Odo's betrayal feel that much more short-term, contrived, and shallow.
Sure, it's certainly reasonable that Odo being so initially overwhelmed by the Link in "Behind the Lines" could've greatly affected his personality on a "merely temporary" basis. It's not really all that implausible. But to so quickly reverse his direction in life (from following the Link and instead deciding once again to remain with "solids") with a single act of redemption—coming to Kira's rescue in her desperate hour of need—possibly also reverses all the consequences that should've come with his initial betrayal. I'm going to reserve judgment, but Kira should not so easily forgive Odo for what he did; it should take some real time. Unfortunately, by supplying Odo with one, big redeeming action it seems the writers are trying to do just that—which very much strikes me as the Easy Way Out. This is Reset Button Mentality. Frankly, I expected this sort of redemption from the onset of Odo's betrayal. But I just hope Kira and Odo aren't laughing over a morning raktajino in Odo's office next week.
Still, the actors and director did a good job with what they had. There's a striking moment where it seems the Female Founder knows that her mission to bring Odo into the fold has failed. Salome Jens and Rene Auberjonois work wonders with nonverbal subtexts; when she asks Odo if he's sure he wants to remain in his quarters and Odo responds that yes, he's sure, there's something about each character's mannerisms which shows that much more is being asked and answered than what is spoken in dialog. And David Bell's score during this scene is incredibly sinister-sounding. (Bell continues to work wonders in the Trek musical arena, and his score for "Sacrifice" feels larger-scaled than the average episode.)
There are a lot of contrivances that work to resolve the plot. These events are reasonable examples of "suspension of disbelief," although they don't aspire to the greatness that most of this arc has. Take for example (1) The Defiant being the only ship that is able to successfully navigate through the hole in the Dominion lines; (2) the Klingons showing up on the battleground In the Nick of Time; (3) Dukat deciding not to commit any ships in pursuing the Defiant ("The Defiant is no match for the station. If Sisko wants to commit suicide, I say we let him."); (4) the aforementioned Odo coming to Kira's aid when she's locked down under Jem'Hadar fire; and (5) Rom disabling the station weapons, thereby making it a vulnerable target for the Defiant when it arrives. By the way—gaping plot hole of the week: What about all those Dominion ships around the station? It's as if the writers forgot about them. Why didn't they attack the Defiant? And why, especially, did Kira and Rom assume those ships wouldn't detonate the minefield if the station's weapons were off-line?
I did appreciate that Rom's efforts to shut down the weapons came too late (and the destruction of the mines was a spectacular sight). And "Sacrifice" does a good job of building suspense around its contrivances. But, substance-wise, most of the episode comes down to the final two acts, centering around the interesting choices of two characters: Sisko and Dukat.
Sisko and the Defiant arrive at DS9 too late. The minefield is gone and the Dominion reinforcements are waiting on the other side of the wormhole. Sisko's decision is one that can't possibly end in anything but certain death: He takes his ship into the wormhole, planning to fight off as many ships as he can. While in the wormhole, however, he is contacted by the Prophets, who tell him he can't be permitted to die. Sisko tells them they have no right to interfere.
The results of this scene are the most fascinating aspects of "Sacrifice." Through a semi-confrontational dialog with the wormhole aliens, Sisko informs them that he will die for his cause, whether he is the Emissary or not. But when the Prophets continue to resist, he explains himself: He needs a miracle, because Bajor and the Federation are not going to survive without one. Sisko asks the Prophets to stop the Dominion ships. The Prophets finally agree, and make the incoming Dominion ships vanish into oblivion.
Now, my first reaction was that this is deus ex machina taken to the most literal of extremes. But the more I think about it, the more I like it. We knew the Federation was going to survive, yet we also knew the odds were impossible. We knew the Dominion would have to take a major loss. We knew Starfleet would get the station back. So what matters most is the impact this all has on the characters. And within Sisko's negotiation with the Prophets is something that I think shows some real promise, and will come back to haunt the captain at some point down the road. Just before the Prophets send Sisko back to the Defiant, they come to a consensus that Sisko must make penance for going against his own apparent role as Emissary. One says, "The Sisko is of Bajor but he will find no rest there." Another says "His pagh will follow another path." Then they send him back to his ship, without answering him when he asks, "What path is that?"
Sisko's question is not answered here, but it does bring up some fascinating possibilities for the future, especially coming off the heels of Sisko's speech in "Favor" that reemphasized how much Bajor means to him. This is going to have significant personal consequences, without a doubt.
When the Defiant comes out of the wormhole but without a Dominion fleet on its tail, everybody is understandably flabbergasted. While the sudden shift in momentum is decidedly forced and all too abrupt (at this point reports instantly begin coming in that Federation ships have broken through the lines and are headed toward the station), I did find Weyoun's line, "Time to start packing," quite amusing, even if totally silly.
And, ah yes—Dukat. Dukat's descent into madness resulting from victory unfathomably slipping through his fingers is well-conceived. Maybe a tad over the top, but nice nonetheless. Yet, as always, there's more to this guy than meets the eye. The fact that he's determined to find Ziyal before evacuating says something about him. Yes, he loves her, but it also comes back to wanting to see his actions justified and his past forgiven. Doesn't happen here. Damar kills Ziyal when he finds out she was the one who busted Kira & Co. out of jail. Dukat is left broken and destroyed, and the Dominion evacuates the station without him.
A broken and destroyed Dukat. It's poetic justice. A guy who has gone from an administrator to a nobody to a rebel to a warlord now becomes ... nothing. Not dead—but lost, imprisoned, and with a dead daughter who can never forgive him. I'm not sure when we'll see him again or what he'll be doing, but it would definitely be interesting to see. Dukat's life is something of a tragedy. He's a villain, but still a tragic figure, his demise brought on by his own actions.
And then he gives Sisko back his baseball.
With the meaty undertones of Sisko and Dukat's themes, "Sacrifice of Angels" is definitely satisfying in several ways. And as adventure television, the show is often exhilarating. But because of the pervasive contrivances and the way Odo's theme falls so short, I wouldn't say it's truly great DS9—especially considering the strength of all the prior buildup. As far as a rating goes, we'll put it on the high end of the three star range. A must-see for the pure entertainment of it—but not everything it could've and probably should've been.
Next week: A wedding of galactic proportions.