"Image in the Sand" 
Season Seven, Episode 1
Written by Ira Steven Behr and Hans Beimler
Directed by Allan Kroeker
Music by Dennis McCarthy
Main Cast:
Avery Brooks as Captain Benjamin Sisko
Rene Auberjonois as Odo
Nicole deBoer as 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:
Brock Peters as Joseph Sisko
James Darren as Vic Fontaine
Barry Jenner as Admiral Ross
J.G. Hertzler as Martok
Aron Eisenberg as Nog
Megan Cole as Cretak
Johnny Moran as Bajoran Assassin
 
 

Synopsis:

It's been three months since that fateful day aboard DS9 when Jadzia was killed and Sisko left for Earth on a leave on absence. Worf is still mourning her loss, and his friends later learn why he cannot seem to let go -- because Jadzia did not die in battle she will not be in Sto'Vo'Kor, the Klingon heaven. But if Worf can partake in a dangerous mission on her behalf, it might just do the trick. Meanwhile, the Romulans have established a base of operations aboard DS9. At first Colonel Kira is suspicious of them, but finds their leader, Cretak to be a surprisingly different "breed" of Romulan -- or so she thinks. Having allowed the Romulans to use a Bajoran moon as a hospital, she is furious to learn that the Romulans have secretly been storing weapons there and demands that Cretak remove them. Back on Earth, a moping Sisko receives a vision from the Prophets of a woman's face in the desert on Tyree. He becomes obsessed with finding this woman and is shocked when his father recognises her as his first wife. "You were married before momma?" asked Ben. "It's not that simple," replies Joseph, for "Sarah was your mother". He explains that he thought they were very happy together but a year after Ben was born she left him without explanation. He tried to find her but she was killed in an accident before he could. Ben is angry that his father has kept this from him all these years but concedes that perhaps learning the truth about his mother is the first step on his journey. Joseph gives him a pendant that belonged to Sarah, which reads "Orb of the Emissary" in ancient Bajoran. Ben seems to think that this Orb can be found on Tyree, as in his vision and may be the key to contacting the Prophets. He sets off to find it, but as he, Jake and Joseph prepare to leave is astounded when a young Trill comes up to him and explains that "it's me...Dax."


Review: 

It's sad to think that Image in the Sand marks the start of DS9's final season, but on a brighter note it also marks a welcome return to form for the series following a rather lacklustre string of episodes at the end of the last season. It's great to finally be back to the nitty gritty of what I'd call "core DS9", dealing with issues and storylines that are relevent to the show's bigger picture. Whilst not without its problems, this is definitely a strong season premiere, opening the new season with neither a bang nor a whimper, but more a confident click as things start to fall into place.

Once again, as seems customary for a DS9 season opener, it is set three months after the last episode. This time lapse is quite effective on most levels and nicely conveys that things have been in a state of suspension since that fateful day aboard DS9. The newly-promoted Kira has been keeping things together aboard the station since Sisko's departure and evidently Bajor has hit pretty rough times following the disappearance of the Prophets with people "turning to hate and fear" , specifically the Pagh Wraiths. As for Sisko, well he's been moping about his father's restaurant in a kind of dazed void. In short, nothing major has happened since last we saw, but the aftermath of the devastating season finale has clearly taken its toll. The episode subtly but effectively maintains a feeling of quiet unease throughout.  The only problem I have is that we don't get to see all that much reaction to Jadzia's death. It didn't happen in Tears of the Prophets (bar Sisko) and I had hoped the writers would compensate for this by exploring her friends' grief here. I'm certainly glad that they haven't totally forgotten about her death (as happened to poor Yar in TNG -- here today, gone tomorrow, totally forgotten the next day) but what we did get wasn't handled as well as it could have been. More on that later.

Image in the Sand juggles three storylines; Sisko's quest for the Prophets, Kira's dealings with the Romulans and Worf's depression. Mercifully Messieurs Behr and Beimler have actually structured these plot-threads into a coherent story as opposed to Tears of the Prophets where a dozen different plots were thrown together in a haphazard, chaotic mess. Kudos on that, it's always nice to see people learning from their mistakes! :-) There are one or two problems, but it's nicely packaged and well-written. The dialogue was a lot snappier than usual, and the character interaction was enjoyably lively and witty. A niggle I had with the sixth season was that the episodes had a tendency to focus exclusively on one character in favour of utilising the whole ensemble, which I felt was a waste. This episode demonstrates how beautifully these characters work together with such wonderful, rich relationships as the three Sisko men, Odo and Kira, Bashir and O'Brien, with Quark thrown in for seasoning.

Easily the most compelling aspect of the episode was Sisko's storyline. Tears of the Prophets was at its best when it focussed upon Sisko as he had to choose between Starfleet and the Prophets and take the rap. Likewise, Image in the Sand is at its most intriguing when exploring Sisko's spiritual "journey". He's spent the last three months moping about his father's restaurant. As Jake says at one point, he went there to try and figure how to "make things right" but so far all he's done is brood and play the piano. It's easy to relate to what Sisko's going through -- his life is at a complete stand-still, he's confused and uncertain of what to do next. Avery Brooks does a nice job, delivering an understated, compelling performance which perfectly illustrates Sisko's present state. After he has his vision from the Prophets and decides, with a glint in his eye, that he must find the woman from his vision, I couldn't help but feel a pang of relief. This is more like the Sisko we know and love -- and to prove it, here's the start of our latest Sisko Obsession (TM). :-)

The story takes a more personal twist when it transpires that the woman in his vision was actually Joseph's first wife and Ben's natural mother. This is all news to Ben and understandably knocks him for six but thankfully the episode never degenerates into maudlin soap opera thanks to some deft writing and the first-rate performances of Brooks and Brock Peters. Both are very convincing in their parts and have such a wonderful, easy chemistry that they could actually be father and son (Brooks and Cirroc Lofton have a similar on-screen chemistry that is a true highlight of the show). I was fascinated to learn more about the mysterious Sarah Sisko and her connection to the Prophets (as we do in the next episode). This storyline was handled wonderfully, leading to Sisko's quest to find the Orb of the Emissary, although the supposition that perhaps it didn't go dark like the other Orbs is a stretch.

At first the scene where Sisko is stabbed by the assassin seemed a little disconnected from the rest of the episode but it was actually a nice touch, both illustrating the turmoil on Bajor and reminding us that the Pagh Wraiths are still very much on the loose. Above all, it was made for one hell of a shocking, jaw-dropping moment! As for the final moment where Ezri Dax, makes her entrance -- it was a beautifully understated moment. The music gave it an almost magical undertone and the cliff-hanger itself was reminiscent of The Search, Part One where Odo discovered his people. More on Ezri in my review of Shadows and Symbols.

Onto plot number two, which revolves around Kira and her new Romulan buddy Cretak. It was all mostly set-up for the next episode and as such there's not a lot I can say other than it was quite well done. First of all, I rather like Kira's new look. About time she was promoted, although it'll take a while to get used to hearing people call her Colonel Kira. Liked the hair, it's a nice change and the uniform seems to have been altered too. I still think that for what's meant to be a MILITARY UNIFORM it's an absolute disgrace, little different to Seven of Nine's catsuit (and at least no one pretends that's military issue). But on a purely aesthetic -- or perhaps hormonal -- level she looks great. Ahem. Anyway, where was I? Megan Cole made a terrific Romulan, I thought. She imbues the part with a strength and dignity whilst still retaining that trademark Romulan deviousness, as demonstrated by her covert storing of weapons on Durna. But who did she remind me of?! I wonder if I've seen Ms Cole in something else (any ideas, folks? She hasn't been in Trek before, has she?) or whether she reminds me of someone I know but can't quite put my finger on. My mother said that Cretak reminded her of some of her in-laws, but that could just be the fashion sense! (:-)

Plot three concerned Worf and his mourning of Jadzia. It was necessary and there were some good moments, but I wasn't convinced it was done quite as well as it could have been. For a start, Worf-in-mourning walks about with a permanent frown and acts like a grumpy git. In short, he's no different to usual. I'm trying to figure out whether this is the fault of the performance or the writing. Bit of both perhaps. For a start, the use of Vic Fontaine was a little dubious. It wasn't as forced as his appearance in Tears and I liked that song, but it didn't have the resonance it ought to have done. It might have helped if it had actually been established before that "All the Way" was Jadzia's favourite song (how the hell were we supposed to know?) and it might have helped is Michael Dorn had the acting range of, say Rene Auberjonois. Try as he might, I'm afraid he just doesn't seem to have the ability to project feeling or emotion so it was very difficult to get caught up in what Worf was going through. But the blame for this doesn't rest solely on Dorn's shoulders -- the writers could have found a better way to explore Worf's grief.

Picking up on something Bashir said, I realise that they may have been trying to demonstrate that Klingons grieve in a different way to humans. That's commendable, but the problem is I'm not really bothered how a Klingon grieves -- I don't watch DS9 to see aliens, I watch DS9 for human drama. In Trek the aliens have (usually) always been reflections of us, and that's why we can relate to them. It's difficult to feel sympathy for Worf when he's being a hostile, violent jerk. There was one very effective moment, and that was when he was lying in bed, unable to sleep for thinking about Jadzia. As he picked up that photo my heart really went out to him -- it was perhaps the most poignant, moving image of the episode. I can imagine that losing a spouse must be one of the most painful things that could happen to anyone and I'm well aware that whilst you can keep yourself occupied during the day, the nights can be hell. If the rest of the episode had captured the poignancy of those few seconds, I can imagine it would have been suitably moving in the aftermath of Jadzia's death.

There were some other nice touches though, such as the use of O'Brien and Bashir. It seemed fitting that Worf's friends would want to try and help him and I enjoyed the scene where O'Brien payed him a visit to try and get him talking about Jadzia (starting off the conversation by reminiscing about the old days on the Enterprise. I loved the mention of Lieutenant Barclay!). I especially liked their willingness to embrace, or at least respect, Worf's beliefs regarding Sto'Vo'Kor. Whether or not they believed in Sto'Vo'Kor or just wanted to honour Jadzia's memory, it showed a nice respect of Klingon culture and I liked that. On the whole, this sub-plot had some nice moments but I still think they could have found more effective ways to deal with the aftermath of Jadzia's death. At one point Bashir tells Vic "I think Jadzia's death has made us all a little cuckoo." The problem is, there just isn't enough evidence to support this claim.

I think that just about covers it. Definitely a strong start to the season and certainly more effective than its predecessor Tears of the Prophets. There were some problems with the Worf and Kira stories, but the Sisko stuff is tremendously compelling. The different plot strands are deftly interwoven in a way we haven't seen since the "Occupation arc" that kicked off the sixth season. The characters are, for the most part, utilised very well and the episode achieves an effectively unsettled ambience that underscores the proceedings. So far, so good...

Rating: 8


 
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