Nutshell: Not only a great release of tension, but also an exceptionally probing hour that examines internal conflicts.
I'm noticing a trend here. First we get put on standby with episodes that carefully stack the pieces while providing interesting events but also intensely bottled frustration, and then we're permitted an explosive release of tension that leaves us reeling.
"Tacking into the Wind," which might've also been aptly named "For the Homeland," tells the suspenseful and particularly well-realized multi-tiered story of people facing conflict in their own organizations. How they deal with these conflicts could determine the fate of everything they stand for. It also reveals where they've come from and where they're likely headed.
"Tacking" is the best type of action show—one with a strong character undercurrent and ideological core such that we genuinely care about what happens on the screen. We've got the action elements here—dangerous missions and physical fights—but they exist as part of a greater purpose. They're a means to several ends. Those ends prove quite satisfying.
Basically, we have three plotlines here that are put into acceleration mode. We've got the Kira plot as she copes with Rosot; we've got the Worf plot as he copes with Gowron; and we've got Bashir and O'Brien attempting to figure out the Section 31 mystery. The three storylines are assembled with great skill and urgency.
But, more than that, Ron Moore has created a story here that challenges ideologies and asks some really tough questions. Even as the action unfolds at breakneck speed, there's time for scenes of dialog that say a great many things. The plot alone is interesting, but the plot combined with the various characters' sets of opinions and insights makes "Tacking into the Wind" a riveting episode of DS9.
The situation here, as with many situations on this series for the past two years, is one of desperation. The odds seem to be against everybody, and if something goes wrong, the cause may be lost. Watching so many characters with their backs up against the wall, so many attitudes that seem to say, "We have to do this, or else," I found myself caught up in the plotting more than I had thought possible at the outset. That's the benefit of long-term storytelling on a series, and it's nice to see how much DS9 benefits from it.
The strongest storyline is Kira's. I loved all the old wounds it opened. (Some of those were opened last week in "When it Rains...," but this week makes it pay off.) The problem here is one of authority being undermined by personal feelings. Damar, not surprisingly, has coped with the situation through his ability to see the bigger picture, but Rosot is a problem—a fast-growing problem.
Rosot obviously despises working with a Bajoran and goes out of his way to provoke Kira. The problems of yesterday become the problems of today. As the game is played out, it becomes clear Rosot is intended to represent the "old school" Cardassian soldier, one who—at least in attitude—still seems to be living in the days of an old empire that occupied Bajor rather than depending on one of its nationals for survival.
Eventually, Kira must put her foot down, giving Rosot a good beating when he crosses the line. (Watching Kira beat up Rosot is probably as much fun on the visceral level as watching her beat up Damar last year in "Favor the Bold.") Keeping with the "emotional release" angle of the hour, the suddenness of Kira's teeth emerging is like an exhilarating blur; she can certainly turn mean when the situation warrants. After the fight, Garak informs Kira she will have to deal with Rosot again, and we don't doubt him for a moment.
And as if Rosot weren't already enough of a distraction for Kira, there's Odo's situation. It turns out his constant shapeshifting for the recent missions has accelerated the disease's effects on him. He's in very bad shape, but he tries his best to hide his true condition from Kira because he doesn't want to be pitied. What Odo isn't aware of is that Kira knows he's hiding it—and in one scene where Garak "reveals" to Kira that Odo's illness might be a problem for an upcoming mission, Kira explains that she's very aware of what's going on. It's a matter of the facades simply being necessary under the circumstances. (Nana Visitor again shows her astounding ability to reveal her character's vulnerability and emotions without for one second sacrificing her strength.)
But the real standout in this storyline is in how the old wounds of Cardassia and Bajor play a powerful role between Kira and Damar. In a key scene, news arrives that the Dominion have located and killed Damar's hidden wife and son.
Damar: "What kind of state tolerates the murder of innocent women and children? What kind of people give those orders?"
Kira: "Yeah, Damar—what kind of people give those orders?"
Kira doesn't pull the punch, and her statement couldn't be more pointed. And what's amazing is that this tragic news, coupled with Kira's brutally honest statement, might be exactly the dose of sobering reality that Damar needs. Garak explains to Kira precisely what the scene has us thinking: If Damar truly is the leader of a new Cardassia, this tragedy could be a challenge to any of those old, obsolete Cardassian attitudes that he might still be holding under the surface.
In fact, this seems clear even before the end of the episode. There's a dangerous mission to retrieve a Breen weapon from a Jem'Hadar ship—a mission that might be the Federation's key to surviving the Breen. I won't go into the technical details of the mission. It comes across with a suspense greater than I had expected, simply because the underlying material is so strong (and Mike Vejar's direction certainly doesn't hurt). Suffice it to say Rosot chooses this moment to pick a fight with Kira and her methods, and suddenly Rosot has pulled a phaser on Kira, Garak has pulled a phaser on Rosot, and Damar walks into the middle of the situation with his own phaser and must make a decision. Rosot refuses to surrender. He hates this Bajoran woman and wants her dead. We don't need her, he says. He trusts Damar to do what's "right" for Cardassia.
Dramatically, there's only one possible way for this to play out: Damar must shoot Rosot, a fellow soldier and friend that in the past he had trusted with his life. And that's exactly what happens. After killing Rosot, Damar then says what he knows is true: "[Rosot's] Cardassia is dead, and it won't be coming back."
The path the writers have charted for Damar has been absolutely brilliant. It's nice to be able to admire and sympathize with this guy—and without seeing what he truly stands for altered or detoothed. He's still a patriot, but his methods and his idea of Cardassia have changed. The message is clear: Those like Damar with the ability to change are the ones who will survive, while those like Rosot are destined to die along with their defeated world. (It's material like this that makes me wish the producers had ended the war earlier in the season so we could deal more with the post-war issues that will have arisen.)
There are other subplots here. Although they aren't as striking as the Kira/Damar story, they still demand respect. The Klingon plotline offers its share of build-up and payoff. Thanks to thought put into it, it's also much more involving than I had expected, considering this is about the millionth time Worf has had to stand against the Klingon Empire in order to save it.
Gowron is a big problem, putting his political agenda ahead of the war effort, and thus losing his ships with wrong-headed surprise tactics that border on suicide. Martok and Worf have both objected. Gowron has ignored them. Sisko tells Gowron that his actions are ill-conceived. Gowron brushes him aside too.
Finally, with the entire war effort on the line, Sisko's patience with Gowron runs out. He calls Worf in for a rather interesting conversation. The discussion is a quiet, ominous one that basically comes down to Sisko saying, "Gowron has to stop. Whatever it takes." Worf simply replies, "Understood." Sisko asks no further questions. Worf leaves.
Not since "In the Pale Moonlight" have I seen this Sisko emerge, who needs something done and intends to see it through, no matter the cost. If it came down to knowing in advance Worf would have to kill Gowron in a traditional Klingon challenge, I doubt Sisko would bat an eye. That's pretty scary. This is not the Starfleet we used to know. Eight years back when Worf killed Duras in TNG's "Reunion," Picard was extremely displeased. Now we have Sisko all but ordering Worf to do "whatever it takes." My, how times have changed.
That's not to say the first thing Worf does is challenge Gowron to a duel, because he doesn't. He tries some other avenues, albeit without success. Martok is of little help because he feels standing against Gowron would be improper. And Gowron refuses to hear reason from either Worf or Martok. When it ultimately does come down to the traditional challenge, the fight is an exceptionally engaging showdown, simply because the story has sold us so well on the stakes of the outcome. I doubt it comes as a big surprise that Worf is victorious and Gowron must die, but the way these pieces fall into place is simply the way it has to be—particularly given the history of run-ins Worf has had with Gowron and other officials in the empire.
I'll admit Gowron's latest actions in "Tacking" and "Rains" were a bit sudden and forced, but given a key discussion in this installment, I'm willing to look past them.
That key discussion provides the true substance of the subplot, and comes in an unexpected Worf/Ezri scene, where the entire political ideology of the Klingon Empire comes into question. Ezri calls Gowron's latest maneuver a "symptom of a larger problem"—that the empire is dying because of its ongoing willingness to tolerate a corrupt government with shady leaders—perhaps, if we might draw a parallel, a symptom of a problem similar to that of the Cardassians, who have suddenly found themselves obsolete. (And who better to challenge the Klingon political ideology than Ron Moore, who penned a lot of it through his TNG days?) Ezri's honesty pays off and gives Worf a lot to think about—even though he doesn't like the implications. It's great stuff.
Moving on, that leaves us with Bashir's search for a cure to the disease killing Odo. Science is not finding the answer, so O'Brien comes up with the idea of pretending to have found a cure, hoping to lure someone from Section 31 to the station to stop them. Once that operative arrives, they hope to capture him/her in an attempt to learn the secret of the cure. (My thought on this plan is, "That's almost dumb enough to work.") Unlike the other plots, this is setup more than payoff, but I'm fascinated by the possibility of Section 31 playing into the endgame, so we'll wait until next week's installment to say more on the matter.
- The Female Founder's lack of patience is somewhat interesting. She belittles and chews out Weyoun harshly in front of the Breen and constantly threatens him with death (if only the cloning facilities were working). The look on Weyoun's face almost makes me wonder if he'll be the next defector. His incentive to work for her (other than genetically programmed devotion) is seeming increasingly less these days.
- The Winn/Dukat storyline has gone into temporary hiatus, with no scenes this week. That's probably a good thing, since cramming all the subplots into one episode would probably be to the detriment of everything.
On the whole, "Tacking into the Wind" is excellent work. It's edge-of-seat entertainment that has a real mind working behind it, replete with complex characters, thoughtful dialog, and a true perceptiveness of its fictional set of histories and futures. The stakes in the game are impressively high, but the way the game is played is still more impressive. "Tacking" shows how the struggle to defeat the enemy is demanding a great deal of other political tensions be reconciled in the process.
Next week: Chapter seven. As Odo lies dying, Bashir and O'Brien go head to head with Section 31.