"The Changing Face of Evil" 
Season Seven, Episode 20
Written by Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler
Directed by Mike Vejar
Music by Jay Chattaway
Main Cast:
Avery Brooks as Capt Benjamin Sisko
Rene Auberjonois as Odo
Nicole deBoer as Lt Ezri Dax
Michael Dorn as Lt Cmdr Worf
Cirroc Lofton as Jake Sisko
Colm Meaney as Chief Miles O'Brien
Armin Shimerman as Quark
Alexander Siddig as Dr Julian Bashir
Nana Visitor as Colonel Kira Nerys
Guest Stars:
Louise Fletcher as Kai Winn
Marc Alaimo as Dukat/Anjohl
Jeffrey Combs as Weyoun
Casey Biggs as Damar
J.G. Hertzler as Martok
Aron Eisenberg as Nog
Salome Jens as Female Changeling
Barry Jenner as Admiral Ross
James Otis as Solbor
John Vickery as Gul Rusot   Synopsis:

Worf and Ezri arrive home to the shocking news that the Breen have attacked Earth, decimating Starfleet Headquarters. This devastating strike at the very heart of the Federation demonstrates one thing -- that the mysterious Breen are a force to be reckoned with and, with them at the Dominion's fingertips, the tide has turned in their favour. Meanwhile on Bajor, Winn has secretly renounced her allegiance to the Prophets and is following the lead of her guide "Anjohl" (the surgically-altered Dukat), who announces that they must release the Pah-wraiths from the Fire Caves to bring about the Restoration of Bajor. Winn is initially reticent about this: prophecy states that the release of the Pah-wraiths will spell the end of Bajor. Dukat claims it will merely be the end of the "old" Bajor and the begining of a new era of paradise. The key to releasing the Pah-wraiths is in the book of the Kosst Amojan, an ancient, forbidden text said to be of grave evil. Winn dispatches her aide, Solbor, to retrieve the text, much to his horror. He warns that the text has not been removed from the archive in hundreds of years and is immensly dangerous. He also voices his disapproval of "Anjohl", expressing his concerns about this stranger who one day turned up on DS9 and the next became the Kai's closest advisor. Winn is impervious to his concern, ordering to bring her the Kosst Amojan. However, the book is empty -- there are no words. Determined to unlock the secrets of the Kosst Amojan, Winn delves into study and research as Solbor grows ever more anxious.

On Cardassia, Damar confers with one of his officers, Rusot, about the birth of the Cardassian Resistance against the Dominion. Like Damar, Rusot is acutely aware that the Cardassians have become a conquered people and are merely servants in their own land. But the Cardassians are about to fight back and they plan their first raid against the Dominion. Life goes on as normal on DS9, meantime, despite an air of tension hanging overhead. Bashir and O'Brien take a break from work to play with their new model of the Alamo, Ezri tries to get straight her feelings for Bashir whilst Sisko and Kasidy discover that married life isn't all bliss. But the news is getting worse -- the Dominion has launched a counter-offensive in the Chin'toka system, the Federation's sole foothold into Dominion territory. The Defiant leaves DS9 immediately to join a task force headed to the front lines. But the ensuing battle is a tragic defeat for the Federation. The Breen fire an energy-dissipating weapon which wipes out all systems aboard the Defiant, rendering the ship without weapons or shields. As the enemy mercilessly pounds the ship to pieces, Sisko is forced to abandon ship. As the escape pods launch, the Defiant is completely obliterated.

Back on Bajor, Solbor has shocking news for Winn. He tells her that "Anjohl" is an imposter. The real Anjohl Tannan died in a labour camp nine years ago. Furthermore, Solbor has had a sample of his DNA sequenced. "He's not even Bajoran -- he's Cardassian. Don't you recognise the face of your enemy...it's Gul Dukat." Winn is absolutely horrified, picking up a knife to defend herself. Dukat tries to reassure her, but lets slip their plans to free the Pah-wraiths. Solbor is startled and enraged -- the Kai has betrayed the Prophets and he must stop her. In an urgent frenzy of fear, shock and anger, Winn stabs Solbor, only to be horrified by her own action. "The Pah-wraiths sent you to destroy me," she hisses at Dukat while turning her attention to the text of the Kosst Amojan. "The book, I must destroy the book." However, blood spills from the knife onto the the Kosst Amojan, setting the pages alight in a blaze of fire, which clears to reveal the missing words. "The Pah-wraiths have judged you and deemed you worthy," Dukat tells the startled Winn. She looks down at the book in temptation. The Pah-wraiths have offered her supreme power. It's an offer she simply can't refuse.

The escape pods from the Defiant limp home, the crew morale at an all-time low. Admiral Ross promises Sisko another ship, but it may take time. Everyone is surprised when they pick up a transmission from Cardassia -- Damar addressing the Cardassian people. Damar claims that two years ago the Cardassians joined the Dominion on the promise that Cardassia would be made strong again. However, the opposite has happened -- Cardassia is an occupied territory and its people victims in their own land. He pledges that he will no longer stand for this, urging his fellow Cardassians to join him in his fight to defeat the Dominion. Damar and his Resistance have already struck a vital Dominion outpost, much to the fury of Weyoun and the Founder, who orders her troops to find and eliminate the traitors. Kira brings Sisko confirmation of the attack. Sisko realises that they must find a way to help their new ally, who "may be the key to saving the Alpha Quadrant"...

Ai aye aye. Where do I begin? Within the course of a mere forty-three minutes we had a major betrayal and redemption, a catastrophic blow for the Federation, major shifts in the balance of power in the Alpha Quadrant, an intense show-down between Winn and Dukat, a murder, action and lavish special effects galore, elements of myth and mysticism...oh yes, and the shocking death of an old and dear friend. The Changing Face of Evil is nothing if not momentous. It's also a damned fine episode to boot -- one that brings all the elements of the past four weeks into sharp focus, spiralling toward an unforgettably explosive, nail-biting climax that'll leave you on the edge of your seat, breathless and gasping for more.

It's no sooner has the episode begun, with Worf and Ezri's return home, than the drama begins as news hits the station that the Breen have attacked Earth. Following a cut to the opening credits, we open with a shot of San Francisco and its Golden Gate Bridge lying in ruins. Although I'd imagine such an image would have more emotional impact on American viewers than a Brit such as myself, it was nevertheless a sobering reminder of the stakes. Space battles, however well done, have a distinct fantastical quality to them -- when we see a Federation ship torn to pieces we're more likely to ogle at the pretty special effects than worry about the loss to the Federation. A shot of an Earth city reduced to smouldering rubble therefore has far more emotional punch, making the loss seem far more tangible.

Ever the Klingon, Martok cannot restrain his admiration for the Breen's gusto -- after all, even the Klingons never dared attack Earth. The attack conveys a clear message -- _be afraid_. Since the Romulans joined the Alliance last year, the Federation has had the advantage, culminating in their invasion of the Chin'Toka system in Tears of the Prophets. But with the Breen at their side, the Dominion have turned the tide of the war and they're about to bite back.

Admiral Ross arrives aboard DS9 (or does he live there now??) and informs Sisko that the Dominion have launched a counter-assertive at Chin'Toka. As the Federation's only foothold into Dominion territory, the loss of the Chin'Toka system would be a devastating blow. The Defiant immediately leaves to join a Federation assault force but the subsequent battle does not go well. Mere seconds into the battle, the Defiant is hit by a Breen weapon which promptly disables all systems, leaving the ship dead in space -- without shields or weapons. Sisko is forced to abandon ship, much to the shock and horror of the crew. As everyone rushes to the escape pods, Sisko takes one last look at the bridge of his ship, now being hacked to pieces by enemy fire. The look on his face was perhaps the most haunting, wrenching image of the whole episode and one that stuck with me long after the end credits had rolled. We cut to a shot of the escape pods launching amid the carnage of this battlefield -- clearly much the rest of the fleet have suffered the same fate as the crippled Defiant. Another enemy shot completely obliterates the Defiant, in an absolutely awesome display of pyrotechnics.

"Poor Captain Sisko," scoffs a smug Weyoun from aboard the Jem'Hadar flagship. "I believe he was quite fond of that ship." (Now, who deserves to die in the finale, I ask you?! :-))

Hang on a minute, while I catch my breath. The first time I saw this I was numb with shock. I couldn't believe I'd just witnessed the death of the Defiant. Everything happened so suddenly and so unexpectedly. What's more, strength of the directing, acting, special effects and music (all absolutely phenonemal) combine to create an unforgettably powerful, painfully visceral piece of television. It's almost as though the viewer is there, experiencing the events firsthand. Even after several repeat viewings, this sequence loses little of its shock value. Ouch, ouch, ouch.

I don't think it would have been possible for the writers to come up with a more effective way of depicting one of the Federation's darkest hours. The shot of San Francisco lying in ruins was merely a taster of what was to come -- the loss of practically an entire assualt fleet, made painfully real by the destruction of the Defiant, an integral part of the series for five years now. If nothing else it hammers home the fact that things really are coming to an end. The events of The Changing Face... basically shake the rug from under our feet, delivering one, simple message -- take nothing for granted. Whilst the crews of TOS and TNG (and most likely Voyager as well when its time comes), rode off happily into the sunset, I very much doubt that anyone who truly understood DS9 expected it to follow suit. DS9 has always prided itself as the Trek series that dared to be different, that strove to depict a slightly darker, more realistic, true-to-life vision of the future. Therefore I was among those that confidently predicted that DS9's finale would see a more definite conclusion than TNG offered, that characters would part, circumstances would change and yes, that people would die. As the Boy Scouts would tell you: be prepared.

One of the real strengths of this episode is the sublime way it integrates the twists and turns of its epic, sweeping plot with quieter, more light-hearted character moments. Never for a second do the characters get lost amid the ruckus or become pawns of the plot. We're never allowed to forget that these are people with dreams, hopes, fears, lives and families. Last season's Tears of the Prophets tried to do just that but the result was an over-loaded mess wherein such momentous developments as the death of Jadzia and the loss of the Prophets were side-lined for the likes of Odo and Kira's first argument (gasp!) and an utterly pointless appearance and song by Vic Fontaine. Fortunately, writers Ira Behr and Hans Beimler have evidently learned from their mistakes and here they concoct a near-perfect balance of enjoyable character vignettes and pivotal plot development. Rather than detracting from the more important events, the characterisation enhances and nicely balances them.

So, despite the grim news that the Breen have attacked Earth, life goes on as normal aboard DS9 (this is before, of course, the Defiant leaves for battle). Amidst the life-shattering developments that are taking place, we have Bashir and O'Brien taking some time out to play with their new "toy" -- sorry, model -- of the Alamo. Looking back, one may well remember this as the season of the Alamo -- we've certainly had enough references to it! Although the gag has been pretty much run into the ground by this point, this time I actually got a kick out of the boys' continuing obsession with the infamous battle. And, gosh darn it, the sight of them playing with their model was very cute! Cleary even grown men are little kids at heart. Except for Worf, of course, who finds the whole thing ridiculous. As Ezri ponders whether or not she should tell Julian that she has feelings for him, Worf warns that "he is a child! He gets excited playing with toys." Sure enough, I wouldn't have thought them playing with toy soldiers in the middle of Quark's would do much for their street cred, but there you have it. Although not earth-shattering, this scene was still a fun reminder that the characters are people, as I said above, and a welcome counter-balance to the episode's more intense moments.

Another moment that struck a similar note was the scene aboard the Defiant as everyone prepares the ship for departure. Amid the buzz of activity as they calibrate the ship's systems, the light-hearted banter made an enjoyable, pleasant counter-balance to the river of technobabble relating to the ship's inner-workings. Nog voices his nervousness about the impending battle, O'Brien is annoyed with Bashir for misplacing the Colonel Travis figure from the model and Worf teases Ezri about her feelings for the doc that plays with toys ("it's not a toy -- it's a model! Built to scale!"). Incidentally, Worf's good-natured jibes at Bashir's expense seemed to work a lot better in script form than on screen. Michael Dorn has always been a bit hit-and-miss when it comes to comedy and here the whole gag falls rather flat.

Nonetheless, the amiable chatter between these people is a nice demonstration of DS9's unique emphasis on characterisation that tends to blow TNG and Voyager out the water. It's nigh-impossible to imagine such light-hearted, informal banter aboard the bridges of the Enterprise-D or Voyager. Had this scene been done on either TNG or Voyager, the technobabble would have been in place but little of the affectionate character intrigue and spirited interaction. DS9 manages to depict a group of people who have served together for many years and become deeply fond of each other. They still know and carry out their duty, but formality is cast aside for the camaraderie and bond that has developed between them. Also worthy of note is that this aspect feels natural and unforced. Instead it's well measured and balanced and one of the reasons that, of all the Trek ensembles, the DS9 cast of characters are closest to my heart. This scene, with its extended glimpse at the Defiant's preparations for battle, also provides a subtle foreshadow of the tragic events that would follow.

Perhaps the weakest aspect of The Changing Face... is the lame sub-plot involving Ben and Kasidy's first marital tiff, somewhat reminiscent of the aforementioned Odo/Kira vignette from Tears of the Prophets. There were one or two enjoyable moments, such as Sisko arriving home to find Kasidy wrecking his kitchen in a disasterous attempt to cook dinner ("my peppers... nobody touches my peppers!") and a delicious little moment where Quark warns Odo that he and Kira could end up like the bickering husband and wife ("marriage -- changes everything!"). Cute, very cute. But, aside from that, I can't say it served any purpose other than to provide Avery Brooks with a little more screen time. Besides, although most of it ended up on the cutting room floor, Strange Bedfellows featured a similar storyline which, exploring Kasidy's uncertainty at embracing Bajoran religious beliefs, was considerably more interesting. It didn't help that, for the majority of the episode, Brooks seemed somewhat distant, as if he were saying his lines but not putting much heart into them (although he more than made up for it during and following the tragic battle at Chin'Toka). I suppose we have to be grateful, at least, that this sub-plot was short and sweet, not being nearly as intrusive as it could have been. I could have done without it, yes, but as it fails to detract from the real meat of the episode, I can certainly live with it.

I know I'm not alone in noticing that, thus far into the Final Chapter, the lion's share of the action has gone to the bad guys. Given the quality of much of the material, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Until now, all the major threads of this arc have dealt with...well, the changing face of evil. Indeed, much change has been afoot in the enemy camp: the Dominion have joined forces with the Breen, drastically shifting the balance of power in the Quadrant while Dukat has, of course, changed his face quite literally, disguising himself as a Bajoran farmer to win the trust of Kai Winn and lure her toward the Pah Wraiths. Then we have Damar, whose startling transformation from snivelling Dominion puppet to heroic freedom fighter has been one of the most surprisingly powerful aspects of the past few episodes.

I think it's safe to go on record as saying that, until now, I'd never much liked Damar. After all, what was there to like? He started off as a sketchily-drawn background character, Dukat's right-hand goon in a crusade against the Klingons back in the fourth season. The sixth season's Occupied Station arc saw an expanded role for the sarcastic, sneering toad. He was the man responsible for finding a way to take down the mine-field at the wormhole, which very nearly led to the Dominion's victory. He went out of his way to make life hell for Kira and, in the climatic Sacrifice of Angels, he murdered Ziyal. To cut a long story short, he was not a very nice person.

But Damar got his due. Paying the price for Ziyal's murder and Dukat's subsequent mental collapse, Damar found himself thrust in the position of leading Cardassia, but a Cardassia under the thumb of the Dominion. In their thurst for conquest, the Cardassians sold their soul to the devil in the form of a treaty with the Dominion. This alliance was sold on the promise of power and glory. The Cardassians had the naivete to believe that with, the help of the Dominion, they would become the supreme power of the Alpha Quadrant. But it hasn't, as you know, worked out quite like that.

It's taken a long time for Damar to come to this realisation. Oh, it's been staring at him in the face since day one, but until now he's refused to acknowledge it. The grim reality of the situation too much to bear, he's sought comfort in drinking himself to oblivion. This season, barely a scene has gone by where Damar hasn't had a bottle of kanar in hand. Similarly, Weyoun has continued to make his life hell, pulling his strings, patronising him and making it clear that he is merely a pawn of the Dominion and his people an expendable resource. Last week things came to a head and Damar reached a crucial turning point, one that would be his downfall or his redemption. Unable to take his fate -- and the fate of his people -- into his own hands, and indeed, unable to look himself in the mirror, he was slowly killing himself by alcoholism. Pushed farther over the edge, it's a wonder he didn't snap altogether. Many people would. But, for others, it's the darkest hour that heralds the dawn and from the depths of his rage and pain, Damar made the brave decision to take charge of his destiny.

"Even the worst of us can be redeemed," Kira had told Winn last week. No where is this more in evidence than in the case of Damar.

And so, having opted to betray the Dominion and fight to win back his homeland, the Damar we see here is a world apart from the Damar of only a few episodes back: he's a man reborn. Throughout The Changing Face..., we see him organising his army and planning his first strike against the Dominion, displaying a steely determination and passionate resolve. He knows it won't be easy, that it will be an extremely difficult road, but the fact his cause is just is what counts. As for the kanar? He doesn't need it any more, for he's stopped hiding from the truth, instead deciding to embrace it. And Weyoun? In one of the most deliciously ironic scenes of the episode, Weyoun notices that there is something different about him, mistakingly thinking that Damar has regained his confidence and belief in the Dominion. "You know me so well," Damar responds.

Hours later, Damar has made his first strike against the Dominion -- destroying the Vorta cloning facility on Rondac Three. "I could be the last Weyoun," gasps the startled Vorta. "That's why he picked that target." Well, you know what they say, bud -- couldn't have happened to a nicer person. :-) Undoubtedly the highlight of the episode -- and for an episode that features the destruction of the Defiant among other things, that is saying a lot -- is Damar's speech to the Cardassian people, revealing his decision to fight to free Cardassia from their Dominion oppressors.

It couldn't have come at a better time, for one thing. On DS9, the crew have just returned home following their devastating defeat at Chin'Toka and morale is at an all-time low. Just as it seems all is lost, everyone is startled when Damar announces his intent to drive the Dominion from his homeland. What can I say? It's a great speech, well-delivered by Casey Biggs and it still makes me want to get up and cheer. The music, directing and editing are all impeccable, as the speech is intercut with the varying reactions from the DS9 crew to the Founder and Weyoun (whose expression was worth the price of admission alone!). It makes for absolutely riveting, thrilling viewing: a rousing, nail-biting climax to one heck of an eventful episode. If anyone out there is looking to combine a montage of DS9's finest moments, this is one that begs to be included. And I can't in good conscience end this review without including the speech itself! So, for those interested, here goes:

Y-ow! The truly remarkable thing about this development is the absolutely marvellous irony that the Cardassians are now in the very situation they inflicted upon the Bajorans during their Occupation of Bajor.  True poetic justice if ever there was, it's simply a stroke of genius on the part of the writers. It's almost as though this had been planned from day one. Fortunately, this delicious irony is picked up by succeeding episodes, so I'll leave it at that for now.

And last but not least, another plot that came to a head was that of Winn and Dukat's unholy alliance (no pun intended!). As I've been telling anyone who'll listen, I've found the entire Winn/Dukat storyline thoroughly enjoyable and this week's instalment was no exception. Following her carthartic  decision to embrace the sworn enemies of the Prophets, Winn has returned to Bajor along with "Anjohl", her newfound spiritual guide and lover. Despite having discovered his allegiance to the Pah-wraiths -- and later followed suit herself -- Winn is still unaware as to "Anjohl"'s true identity. But, as with last week's episode, The Changing Face of Evil moves the plot swiftly along, covering a vast amount of territory yet still managing to unfold believably and remain true to character.

Thankfully it would appear that Winn's overwrought speech at the end of Strange Bedfellows was merely an isolated incident. Oh, I could well believe that Winn would turn her back on the Prophets and embrace the Pah-wraiths if it so suited her needs. But her melodramatic tirade seemed to indicate that her conversion to "the dark side" would rob the character of all subtlty. After all, we saw much the same thing happen to Dukat following Waltz and only recently has the character begun to recover some of his depth and ambiguity.

Fortunately, The Changing Face of Evil showcases the Kai at her most compelling, thanks largely to its sublime focus on character nuance. Despite having switched camps, Winn is still clearly reticent about the implications of releasing the Pah-wraiths. But Dukat, whose "humble farmer" routine has been all but been cast aside, is continually goading her on, telling her that she must consult the forbidden text of the Kosst Amojan. Louise Fletcher does a commendable job showing Winn's determination to embrace the Pah-wraiths tempered by a life-time of having believed them to be evil and dangerous. She's walking a fine line between jubilant anticipation and nerve-wracking fear. It's her most trusted aide, Solbor, who finally tips the scales by revealing Dukat's true identity.

Having been distrustful of this mysterious stranger from day one, Solbor discovers that he is not just an imposter -- but a Cardassian. Things come crashing toward a nail-biting climax, culminating in Solbor's revelation that "Anjohl" is none other than Gul Dukat, Prefect of the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor and one of the most hated men in Bajoran history. Winn's utterly horrified response was dead on the money. She grabs a knife to defend herself, while Dukat pleads to her not to be alarmed, that the Pah-wraiths have brought them together for a reason.

Solbor catches onto this and is shocked: Winn has been working to release the Pah-wraiths. Bajor's spiritual leader has betrayed the Prophets. Solbor turns to leave, pledging to stop her. In an anxious frenzy, Winn grabs him, begging him to try to understand that she only wants what is best for Bajor (hands up if you believe that one). But Solbor is having none of it. Realising that if word gets out, she will have lost everything, Winn stabs him and he slumps to the floor, dead. She gasps in horror, bombarded by a potent mixture of conflicting emotions, shocked by her own action. Her world is crumbling down around her ears. She turns her attention to the Kosst Amojan -- if she can get rid of it, destroy the evidence, everything will be alright. But a drop of blood spills from the knife onto the pages, igniting a brilliant flame which disperses to reveal the book's missing words. "The Pah-wraiths have judged you and found you worthy," whispers Dukat, trying to regain control of the situation. Winn looks down at the book, her expression betraying her torn state of mind. She now realises she's been manipulated by Dukat into betraying the Prophets and following the Pah-wraiths...but it's too late to turn back now and the Pah-wraiths' offer of power too tempting to refuse. The die is cast.

We've been building up to this moment for four episodes now and it makes for absolutely spellbinding viewing, boasting excellent work on all fronts. Ira Behr and Hans Beimler's assured handling of the plot and characters retains the ambiguity and depth that befits both characters. The plot has some wonderful mythological undertones and provides a well-measured balance of myth and mysticism combined with good characterisation and solid drama. And once again Louise Fletcher and Marc Alaimo made an explosive combination, highlighting that both their characters work so beautifully together it's a pity they hadn't crossed paths long before now. Once again, great stuff.

Crashing on:

Well. There we have it. I can safely say there's only one thing I disliked about this episode, and that's the title. Come on guys, The Changing Face of Evil? Apt thought it may be, it nevertheless sounds like a particularly naff 50's B-movie. But not to worry, for when my sole complaint is about something as trivial as the title, I'd say we're doing pretty darn well!

Rating: 9

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