Nutshell: A lot of pieces come together to make a show that's a bit scattered, but with fascinating possibilities.
Unlike previous season premieres like "The Search" or "Way of the Warrior," "Image in the Sand" proves that the creators of Deep Space Nine are at this point much more interested in telling a story that's in tune with the series' larger goals than they are in succumbing to ratings-ploy mentality.
For starters, just look at the trailer. Here was an episode so impossible to effectively summarize that the preview, full of incomprehensible riddles and ominous foreboding, told me very little, and would likely tell someone who didn't have a firm grasp of the DS9 universe even less.
This is a story that works because it's one chapter of a saga. It's not the best piece, but it's a necessary one, and one that puts DS9 mythos more on par with grander, epic storytelling like Star Wars than any previous Trek incarnation. It's hard to judge this episode without knowing how the rest of this mini-arc will play out, but from what "Image" offered, I'm intrigued and enthusiastic about part two.
The story basically picks up right where "Tears of the Prophets" left off, never mind that three months of time has gone by. The characters have all been in a sort of limbo over the hiatus—which is sometimes spelled out a little too loudly in the dialog—but three months off for Sisko seems like an appropriate amount of time for him to linger in confusion.
While playing the piano at his father's restaurant, Sisko suddenly has a vision. He sees an image—a face buried in the sand in the middle of the desert on Tyree. It turns out that Sisko's father knows who this face is. He's not forthcoming at first, and for understandable reasons. It's a family secret that Ben's father has kept for decades: This woman was actually named Sarah, and was Ben's mother—married to Joseph when Ben was very young. For his entire life Ben has believed his stepmother was actually his mother.
Mysterious tales from a family's past are usually sold on whether or not we care about the people involved. Here, this theme delivers. I've always been a big fan of Sisko as a character who sees importance in his family history, and watching him face this new realization—that his father had never told him the truth until now—brings forth a quiet pain in Ben.
I particularly enjoyed Avery Brooks' restrained performance. It was subtle and much less prone to histrionics—which I think is a good thing. While I generally like Brooks' performances anyway, he does have a tendency to break out into Stage Actor Mode™ when his character gets worked up. But in "Image in the Sand," he seems much more serene, distant, and mysterious. Brooks' performance here is much more internalized; as we watch Sisko, we can see the gears turning in his head even when he doesn't say a word.
Later, when his father gives him a piece of jewelry that belonged to Sarah, we see that it has an ancient Bajoran inscription on it, alluding to something called "The Orb of the Emissary"—perhaps another Bajoran orb, which until now was never known as existing. Maybe it can bring back the Prophets.
I'm very intrigued about the possibilities here. We've always known that the Prophets consider Sisko to be "of Bajor." This connection might explain why. How was his mother connected to Bajor? And why did she leave Joseph for Australia with no explanation? And what about the details of her mysterious death?
"Image in the Sand" is sophisticated stuff that, quite frankly, blows most of those TOS reruns I've been watching the past few weeks out of the water in terms of intelligence level. But never mind—it's 32 years, and apples and oranges.
Back on the station, two subplots emerge. One of them involves a recently promoted Colonel Kira and her ongoing administrative duties on the station. Bajor has seen better days, as many people have turned to "hate and fear" after being abandoned by the Prophets. There is at least one mention of Bajoran cults that worship the Paghwraiths.*
Admiral Ross informs Kira that the Romulans will be setting up a military presence on the station. Kira isn't thrilled, but it's Starfleet's call and her cooperation comes with the job.
What's of particular interest here is all the parallelism when compared with the situation of one year ago. Once again we've got Kira on the station representing the Bajoran government, but without Sisko at her side. Once again we've got her at odds with an administration that doesn't represent immediate Bajoran goals. (In this case, now it's Starfleet and the Romulans, rather than the Dominion and Cardassians.) And again we have a volatile situation emerge when one government objects to the placement of military equipment and threatens to remove the other government's presence from the area as a consequence of such noncompliance.
In this case, instead of Weyoun threatening to take the station from Sisko if he doesn't remove the minefield (a la "Call to Arms"), we have Kira and the Bajoran government threatening to remove the Romulans from a moon the Bajorans had granted them to use for a hospital facility—because they learn Romulans are storing unauthorized weapons there.
As Weyoun so aptly puts it, this is the sort of situation that can cause an alliance to disintegrate. My only complaint is that this conflict arises so quickly that it seems a little forced. Personally, I like the idea of a Romulan presence aboard DS9 because it's a prudent measure for military allies that also has story potential. And although Kira initially objects to the arrangement, there's a genuine chemistry that begins to emerge between Kira and Cretak (Megan Cole), the officer in charge of the DS9-based Romulan presence. I'd hate to see this all thrown away in the next episode, because there's some great long-term potential here.
The other station-based subplot is okay, but hardly worthy of awe. I'm referring to Worf's inability to get over Jadzia's death due to his belief that she has not ascended to Stovokor, the "Klingon heaven." I'm glad to see that Worf's grief has not simply been dismissed. But I also probably could've done without the Gratuitous Vic Fontaine Sequence™ that accompanies this subplot.
I also question the wisdom of "Starfleet officers go on rogue mission to help get Jadzia into Stovokor," arising here when O'Brien and Bashir decide to go with Worf and Martok on an honorable suicide battle mission in the name of Jadzia, a gesture that would assure her a spot in Stovokor. The sentiment is nice, but would Starfleet really permit officers to abandon their assigned posts so arbitrarily?
I did, on the other hand, enjoy some of the comic relief, including a scene where O'Brien and Worf discuss the Enterprise days over a bottle (or three) of blood wine. Remember Lt. Barclay? Don't we all?
I suppose that brings us to one last matter: the last-second unveiling of Ensign Ezri Dax (Nicole deBoer). Well, it was so brief and completely disconnected from the storyline thus far that it really doesn't play a factor in the episode, other than to send us into the closing credits awaiting next week's upcoming character introduction. I'll reserve all comments on this matter until then, when deBoer gets more than three lines.
"Image in the Sand" is a good story that tries, perhaps, to do just a little too much in terms of giving lots of characters something to do. I definitely liked the episode, though it jumped a lot from plotline to plotline. I can't say where it's headed, because I haven't the slightest idea what will happen with all these pieces next week. For now, let's put it on the high end of the three-star range, and await the follow-up.
* Jammer's note: I am henceforth spelling the term "paghwraith." I know I have used other spellings in the past, but the official spelling is not known. Ron Moore has stated online that multiple spellings have appeared in scripts, and that he believes the preferred spelling is "paghwraith."
Next week: The Siskos go to the desert, Worf goes to battle, and Kira takes on the Romulans.