"Dominion" is a title, like "The Next Generation," which could be taken to mean something more thematically generic and specific to this episode, or refer to the larger element from Trek's history. For this episode, it's definitely a case of the former rather than the latter. The Dominion isn't actually the subject of this episode at all, although it raises the question of where exactly the Dominion is in all of this. If a rogue faction of the Founders had broken off and was now trying to wage war against the Federation, wouldn't the actual Dominion at least have something to say about that? And might an episode titled "Dominion" examine that?
Nope. And it's that sort of oversight, deliberate or not, that makes "Dominion" fall more in line with the isolated, smaller-scale thinking that has been too prevalent in the Kurtzman era of Trek, rather than using the expansive canvas of the universe to advance the universe's broader narrative. While it's good that this episode at least pays lip service to the Dominion War and the morally dubious decisions around the genetically engineered virus used to infect the Great Link, much of the plan here nonetheless boils down to one villain and her backstory, with the macro scale being almost incidental.
That backstory is finally explained in some detail, but the lack of macro plot complexity is becoming more disappointing with each episode. In a nutshell, Vadic was a Changeling who was captured and imprisoned within a biological lab where Federation scientists ran some rather nasty experiments. Those experiments are what ultimately created this new breed of Changelings; Vadic was able to adapt to these biological changes, kill her captors (and take the identity of the lead researcher) and then teach other Changelings to modify themselves based on her own adaptation. (Although, none of this explains the mysterious face that seems to be an entirely different entity altogether, and who gives Vadic her marching orders. WTF?)
All of this is explained in a lengthy scene in the middle of the episode after Picard & Co. have lured Vadic and her henchmen into a trap; they board the Titan and are neutralized behind force fields. The speech and flashbacks give Amanda Plummer some more scenes to chew up the scenery, and they at least give the villain her motivation, which is mostly vengeance for a past wrong. But it still makes the character no less unhinged than ever before, and indeed perhaps even more so.
The Vadic material is preceded by lengthy action sequences, including corridor phaser battles and hand-to-hand combat, mostly involving Jack and Sidney, and Jack's newly discovered pseudo-telepathic abilities, which first allow him to accidentally flirt with Sidney, and later allow him to fight bad guys using her as an avatar. (The question "What is Jack?" gets ratcheted back up to 10 this week, and Vadic has the answers to that question, which she intends to share, but not before the screen goes black on this week's installment. They are really pushing it with teasing out this mystery.)
After Vadic's speech, she is able to escape and subsequently take control of the Titan. This is helped in no small part by Lore, who is one half of the split Data/Lore personality that has not been internally rectified by the newfangled positronic matrix. (Lal and B-4 exist as "memory files only," simplifying the matter somewhat.) Because Lore is evil and thrives on chaos, he does exactly what's conveniently worst for our heroes. Lore's role in the plot here is a preposterous contrivance at best. He's connected to the ship's computer for who knows what reason, which allows him to take control of all the systems. This allows him to disable the transporters precisely when they are needed (the transporters being unavailable for plot reasons is a mini-theme of the season), and allows Vadic and her henchmen to stage their escape and take over the ship. It would be absurd if Vadic were able to orchestrate Lore's actions on her own and make him part of her master ship takeover plot, but even more absurd is how coincidental it all ends up being.
Vadic's capture and escape are the type of messy action plotting that would be right at home in the first two seasons of this show, and it's worrisome (albeit not entirely surprising) that they start to play into the plot here in season three as it nears the endgame. The whole Data/Lore struggle is useful from a character standpoint, I suppose, as it results in a scene where Geordi makes desperate, emotional appeals to Data that span the past and present. But after already watching this character die twice (which the story does acknowledge, to be fair), it's becoming difficult to become invested in these emotions yet again while Data/Lore is in the middle of a plot that's such a clunky apparatus.
That being said, Brent Spiner does his thing and does it well, switching between Data and Lore on a dime and doing so convincingly. There's intrigue in his split personality and in how Geordi explains it all in classic TNG fashion. Similarly, there's intrigue in the opening scene, where Seven contacts Tuvok (you can add Tim Russ to the list of characters on display in this farewell parade) and tries to suss out whether or not he has been replaced with a Changeling. (He has, although Tuvok is apparently still alive and being held somewhere.) And there's a nice scene where Jack, increasingly alarmed by his unknown nature, confides in Picard.
The things that have worked this season continue to work, and they keep this show from jumping off the rails. But the things that failed in previous seasons are starting to reveal themselves in this season as well, and were likely here all along. The longer this season goes on, the thinner and dumber the overarching plot seems. The question of why the Changelings want Picard's body and Jack's DNA is speculated here as the Changelings wanting the perfect doppelganger so they can better infiltrate the Frontier Day celebration and destroy the fleet. But this is redundant overkill when the Changelings are already (1) apparently everywhere and (2) virtually undetectable. (And the portal weapon being stolen — and deployed! — as a "cover" just to steal Picard's body makes absolutely no sense in retrospect.)
So there are definitely major fissures in this story, to put it mildly, and they are becoming much harder to ignore. The question is whether the character details and the cumulative effect of spending time with them during this journey will be enough to offset a potentially moronic plot. That remains to be seen, but this episode has its pleasures, even as large parts of it don't survive real scrutiny.
Some other thoughts:
- Worf and Raffi are shuttled off-screen for the week with a line of throwaway dialogue.
- Similarly, Riker and Troi are not seen (although Frakes makes an appearance as a Changeling pretending to be Riker), even though they have presumably been tortured on Vadic's ship. (At least we didn't have to sit through any torture scenes.) With only three episodes remaining, I'm wondering whether the writers will do anything to adequately service Troi's character, which has been given extremely short shrift so far this season.
- With all the various characters popping up at different times, I wonder how much of this season came down to scheduling around actors' availability and budgetary constraints, and trying to juggle all of that into these 10 scripts.
- Would it be too much to ask to get some DS9 players into this story, considering the Dominion was DS9's territory? Sure, there's plenty of TNG and Voyager (and the name-dropping of Admiral Janeway makes me believe we might even see her before this is all over), but no DS9 characters, settings, or species. (Even the Changelings aren't DS9 Changelings.) Typical.
- If the Changelings are capable of such a wide, infiltration conspiracy, why do they need to destroy the fleet on Frontier Day with such urgency? Couldn't they wait? Or better yet, just take over Starfleet without blowing up ships?
- Isn't there anyone else who can fight this conspiracy from within? Surely Ro wasn't acting alone with just Worf. There's no way such a sweeping conspiracy could still be a secret at the highest levels of Starfleet. It's another example of this series' penchant for small-world plotting.
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