The September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.
In a way, The Search feels almost like a parody of the classic Star Trek season-bridging cliffhanger. It is a story told under the same title, but with both halves of the story feeling distinct enough to stand on their own two feet. Written by two different writers and directed by two different directors, it very much feels like two very different stories linked primarily by an efficient cliffhanger.
It’s not radically dissimilar to the two-parters from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Redemption and Descent come to mind, two-part adventures that very much feel like two different stories melded together rather than one single over-arching story. This disjointedness makes a great deal of sense, given the standard operating procedure when it came to Star Trek cliffhangers, as established by Michael Piller with The Best of Both Worlds, Part I. The logic is simple: write part one; go away for a few months; return and try to write part two.
Of course, The Search very clearly isn’t a season-bridging cliffhanger. It’s a season-opening two-parter. And it’s so cleverly and consciously structured as two very different episodes that it can’t help but feel like a sly nod at the inevitable outcome of that approach to writing – playfully self-aware of how disjointed the whole experience feels as a single story.
It’s worth noting that The Search, Part I and The Search, Part II actually work really well as stand alone episodes. They both do what the writers intend, serving very different purposes. The Search, Part I is very much an introduction to the world of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, as if trying to court new viewers and viewers who might be tempted to try something new after the end of The Next Generation. It gives us the rules of the game, the character dynamics, the status quo and eases us in. The Search, Part II is very much a statement of intent from the writers.
It’s worth getting this out of the way straight away. The Search, Part II is a cheat. It’s a cop-out. It’s a story with a convenient get-out-of-jail-free card at the end. It’s the ultimate application of the “reset button” that critics would frequently attack Star Trek: Voyager for breaking out at the end of each episode. There’s a legitimate argument to be made that all of the scale and drama of The Seach, Part II is never earned by the script – which is desperately trying to have its cake and eat it. I am less convinced.
There’s a sense that the writers are playing with the audience here – that this is a rather wry play on the traditional Star Trek structure. Indeed, the application of that convenient reset button contributes to the sense that Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe are having fun with the concept of the “epic” Star Trek two-parter. After all, for all its scale, The Best of Both Worlds and Redemption were relatively contained affairs. The Borg were repelled, the Federation rebuilt. The Klingons were at Civil War for a few months that convenient took place off camera.
As a franchise, Star Trek has a conscious desire to put everything back where it found it at the end of each adventure. You don’t want to shake things up too much. And The Search, Part II plays as a gleefully self-aware riff on that particular theme. It’s a story about pushing Deep Space Nine as far as it can go, allowing the show to spiral towards narrative collapse and counting on the audience to figure out that this can’t possibly be a story told within the framework of Deep Space Nine.
Behr rather brilliantly ratchets up the tension as the episode goes on, very meticulously and carefully breaking Deep Space Nine. It’s one of those “everything changes!” episodes of television, just pushed past breaking point. First the Defiant is lost, directly after it was introduced and incorporated into the opening credits. Shortly thereafter, the crew on the station are reassigned, breaking up the family. Then the Federation decides to abandon Bajor, which was established as the primary focus of the series from Emissary onwards.
At this point, Behr increases the speed of this implosion. He kills off two guest characters, one introduced in the last episode as a potential recurring character and then an established member of the show’s supporting ensemble. These are all elements of the script that should have even the most trusting viewer skeptical. Any one of these points individually would be earth-shattering. Including them all in a single forty-five minute episode is completely insane. But then Behr destroys the wormhole.
That’s the clincher. That’s the point at which the fantasy ends. That’s the point at which even this make-believe “destroy everything” story has to end. The wormhole is an aspect of Deep Space Nine that appears at the end of the opening credits sequence; it’s an essential part of the show’s identity. It is the nexus that ties together the various plot lines, from Alpha Quadrant politics to Bajoran religion to the arrival of the Dominion.
“It’s a dream” isn’t a cop out here. It’s the logical endpoint. There’s no way to continue telling Deep Space Nine stories within that framework. And, to its credit, The Search, Part II is rather clever in how it clues the audience into this potentiality. It counts on the audience being genre savvy enough to realise that this isn’t a forty-five minute episode that can exist within the context of Deep Space Nine.
There are a number of subtle indicators that this story isn’t kosher, even from the outset. None of these clues are internal to the narrative, but instead they count on the audience’s familiarity with storytelling and the medium to figure out that something simply isn’t right here. There are no exterior shots, for example; because there is no exterior to shoot. The connection between the end of The Search, Part I and the start of The Search, Part II is a little sloppy and hazy; because it’s concealing the capture of the crew.
Most interestingly, there’s the fact that the crew trapped in the fantasy are untroubled by the absence of Kira and Odo. Sisko mentions at the start that the shuttles had to scatter, and the implication is that not all shuttles were recovered; but once the senior staff are recovered, there’s no mention of the fact that Kira and Odo are absent. There’s not even a passing reference to the Dominion continuing to search the Gamma Quadrant for them as a gesture of goodwill. The lack of concern is surreal – particularly given Sisko’s suspicions about the Dominion.
It’s never confirmed, because it would spoil the illusion for the viewers watching at home, but the implication is that Sisko doesn’t even realise that Odo and Kira are missing. Given that supporting characters like Nechayev and Eddington exist inside the simulation without being linked directly to it, it’s quite possible that simulated versions of Odo and Kira exist inside the illusion. The episode is rather cleverly constructed to leave that possibility open.
The episode never shows Sisko holding a staff meeting or debriefing, as you might expect after an encounter like this. The subplot involving Bajor’s own disagreements with the Dominion and the Federation provide a plausible reason for why Sisko might leave Kira and Odo out of his last-minute plot to stop the Dominion from gaining a foothold in the Alpha Quadrant. The Search, Part II is very meticulously structured so that it’s entirely possible for Sisko and the audience to believe two very different things about Kira and Odo simultaneously.
All of these are aspects in the construction of The Search, Part II as a piece of television, rather than internal pointers. They are designed to clue the savvy audience into the fact that something is wrong, rather than simply having the characters deduce it. This is something more a bit shrewder than having Bashir in Inquisition figure out he’s in a simulation using some convenient exposition. Instead, this counts on the audience watching closely enough to pick up on various narrative and structural “tells” that the episode is concealing something.
Of course, this doesn’t entirely excuse the cop out “it was all a shared hallucination” ending of itself, but there are a number of mitigating factors here. The most obvious is that a lot of what happens here comes to pass, making The Search, Part II something of a warped “coming soon” trailer. The Dominion do gain a foothold in the Alpha Quadrant. They do claim Deep Space Nine. The wormhole does close. Even Jadzia leaves, albeit not to join the Lexington. It might not happen exactly as depicted here, but it makes a certain amount of sense. The Search, Part II seems to at least point in the direction that the series is planning to head.
More than that, we do get a lot of information here that does shift the status quo, if not quite as radically as in the shared hallucination. We discover who the Founders are. We discover that the Dominion is proactively planning to deal with the Federation. Most interestingly, we discover that it’s impossible to negotiate peacefully with them, as “the price of peace is too damned high.” The episode makes it clear that the compromises necessary from the Federation to ensure peaceful “coexistence” with the Dominion are impossible to sustain.
The Dominion was largely the product of Robert Hewitt Wolfe’s imagination. Much like Ronald D. Moore did with the Klingons during the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Wolfe was tasked with producing a memo introducing the alien race and defining their characteristics. “That would be an historic document, if we still have that,” Michael Piller notes in The Dominion documentary of the DVD boxset.
The Dominion are a very different type of adversary from the kind that the Federation usually encounters. Most Star Trek empires tend to homogenous – despite fan speculation about Klingon foreheads, it turns out that there is only one race of Klingons. It wasn’t until Star Trek: Nemesis that we got to see another member of the Romulan Star Empire. These sorts of alien political structures tend to be mono-cultures, in contrast to the diversity that exists in the Federation. The Borg are arguably the logical conclusion of this trend – aliens who convert others into one gigantic monolithic entity.
The Dominion are different. They are composed of three major races, with a number of other explicit and implicit members introduced over the course of Deep Space Nine. The Changelings, the Vorta and the Jem’Hadar are the three major races associated with the Dominion, but the Karemma are also members. The Dosi from Rules of Acquisition were also implied to lower-tier members and the implication was that the Hunters from Captive Pursuit were also members of the Dominion. As such, there’s a nice trail of internal continuity retroactively rooting the Dominion in Deep Space Nine.
In The Dominion documentary, Wolfe explains the reason for creating the Dominion:
We just felt that it was time to give a face to the Gamma Quadrant, because Voyager was going to be wandering through the Delta Quadrant from place to place, theoretically – sort of meeting new people every week. And we wanted to make the Gamma Quadrant distinctly different from that by creating the Dominion as a unifying anti-Federation, in a way. Just to give it a completely different character.
It’s interesting that even the Dominion was informed by a desire to differentiate Deep Space Nine from Voyager. Even before Voyager came on the air, it seemed like Deep Space Nine was working very hard to define itself as something radically different.
Wolfe’s document make for an interesting read, but he has shared a couple of insights from it over the years. One of the more interesting ideas is that the Dominion actually knew about the Federation long ago, and the wormhole is responsible for the conflict between them:
The other thing that we thought would be really cool is that the Federation never knew the Dominion existed until they get this wormhole. Our thought – and I can’t remember if we ever really articulated this – was that the Dominion knew the Federation was out there long before the wormhole was opened. And they had plans to deal with the Federation when the Federation was projected to enter their space… in 200 years. And they were building slowly towards that. That’s why they sent out Odo in the first place. But then the wormhole opens up and suddenly the Federation is in their backyard today. And it just throws everything into question for both the Federation and the Dominion.
To be fair, this idea is somewhat alluded to in the episode’s dialogue. Even if there’s no real indication that the Changeling knew about the Federation specifically, there’s still a sense that things are not moving according to the Dominion’s schedule.
Asking why the Changelings sent him out into the universe, Odo is told, “Because even in our solitude we desired to learn more about the galaxy. You were one of a hundred infants we sent off to gain that knowledge for us.” However, Odo has returned earlier than expected. “And now, thanks to the passageway, you’re the first to return to us,” the Female Changeling informs him. “We weren’t expecting you so soon.” They were not expecting him “for another three hundred years.”
At the same time, The Search, Part II seems to suggest that the Dominion is very aggressively investigating their new adversary. All they’ve had to do is wait. The Federation rather loudly blundered into the Gamma Quadrant, and are quite happy to send their most advanced ship and one of their most experienced crews into the deep and dark unknown in order to make contact with the Dominion. this is very much an expression of Federation optimism.
In the first part, Sisko made it quite clear that the Federation was seeking to find a peaceful resolution to this crisis. “We’re not going to fight the Dominion, Major,” Sisko had informed Kira. “At least, not yet anyway. Our mission is to take the Defiant into the Gamma Quadrant and try to find the leaders of the Dominion, the Founders. We have to convince them that the Federation does not represent a threat to them.” It’s a lofty goal, and the Federation is to be respected for making that gesture of good faith.
However, the reality is that peaceful gestures will not always draw the desired response, particularly in the complex matter of politics. The Dominion are openly exploitative of the Federation’s earnestness and optimism. They seem to be waiting patiently, watching the Federation and studying their new adversary. It’s quite clear – in hindsight – that the Jem’Hadar could see through the cloak quite early in the Defiant’s mission. It’s also quite apparent that the capture of O’Brien and Dax in the first episode was intended as something of an experiment – a test to see whether Sisko would risk his mission and his crew to protect two lives.
The character of Borath might not be perfect, but he’s interesting in his own right. He’s defined very much as a scientist poking and prodding the Defiant crew like some malicious scientist probing for weaknesses that might be useful later on. Like the Borg, one of the other two great “anti-Federation” aliens of the franchise, the Dominion are an enemy willing to exploit the strengths of their adversaries through careful experimentation and manipulation.
Here, the sense is that the Dominion are perfectly willing to take advantage of the Federation’s pacifism and optimism. When Kira and Odo walk in on Borath’s experiment, he explains that it is an effort “to see how they’d respond to an attempt by the Dominion to gain a foothold into the Alpha Quadrant. We were curious to see how much they’d be willing to sacrifice to avoid a war.” It’s an incredibly clever and subversive attack on the Federation – one that doesn’t so much target the Federation’s weaknesses as find a way to leverage the institution’s strength against itself.
This is a delightfully cynical plot twist. The Federation’s utopian ideals are one of the cornerstones of the franchise. Deep Space Nine is rather brutally throwing the Federation’s optimism into contrast. After all, history has demonstrated that one-sided idealism is often not enough to prevent a war. V.N. Khanna cites historical precedent in International Relations:
In Hitler’s militarism, every aspect of national life was organised on military lines and imbued with the military spirit which would manifest itself in general uprisings, organised rioting, individual assassinations, conquests, annexations and wars. Every gesture of goodwill, every concession, every compromise was deemed to be a sign of weakness to be utilised for the annihilation of those who made it. All promises, all agreements and all treaties were regarded as purely utilitarian and used as mere masks to conceal real objectives. …
Thus the political testament of the Nazi Foreign policy was to strike down most other powers. The aim of the revisionist offensive was to reconquer lost territories which could never be achieved through League, disarmament or pacifism. “Anyone who really and sincerely desires the victory of the pacifist idea,” Hitler wrote, “must strive by every means after the conquest of the world by the Germans. The pacifist humanitarian idea may perhaps be very good after the world has been conquered and subjugated by the highest type of man.”
The Dominion War would couldn’t help but evoke the Second World War, through a variety of imagery. The Founders are very obviously racist fascists fascinated with eugenics, while the Jem’Hadar’s combat techniques have already been designed to evoke Japanese kamikaze strategies. (Later episodes would establish the Jem’Hadar had their own internal sense of honour and duty – up to and including ritual suicide – also suggesting imperial Japan.)
This similarity is apparent even in the prelude to the conflict, with The Search, Part II comparing Starfleet’s pacifist policy to British appeasement. When Borath boasts that “an alliance between the Dominion and the Federation will be beneficial to both our people”, he’s echoing Adolf Hitler’s perspective on pacifism. The Founders see themselves as “imposing order on a chaotic universe”, and so their own domination is justified as the ultimate and undeniable good within their world view.
The Founders can’t help but evoke Nazi Germany through more than their obvious (and apparently genetic) predisposition towards fascism. (“It’s not justice you desire, Odo, but order,” the Female Changeling assures him. “The same as we do.”) There’s also the way that the Founders exploit genetics as a means to breed and control both the Vorta and the Jem’Hadar. Even the justifications for founding the Dominion can’t help but suggest much of the driving force behind the resurgent German nationalism that drove the Nazi Party.
The Founders are motivated by their own historical experiences with the solids. On their earlier encounters with other life forms, the Founders were met with “suspicion, hatred and violence.” They were “beaten, hunted and killed.” This better experience led the Founders to react against those who had treated them so poorly. “What you control can’t hurt you.” It’s quite similar to the lingering resentment of the humiliation of the Versailles Treaty, something that Hitler tapped into during his rise to power.
So, the Dominion is quite keen to exploit the Federation’s pacifism for its own end. The Search, Part II joins The City on the Edge of Forever as a fairly explicit criticism of blind pacifism – daring to suggest that pacifism is a worthy ideal, but a risky political strategy. In the shared hallucination, the Federation is willing to sacrifice just about everything in order to avoid bloodshed, accepting these impossible compromises as “the price of peace.”
The Search, Part II is a rather gleeful twist on classic Star Trek tropes. After a Jem’Hadar sends O’Brien to the infirmary, holo!Eddington refuses to pursue the matter. He justifies this decision with a rather extreme form of the moral relativism in which the franchise has placed so much stock. “We have to allow them some time to get used to our customs,” he explains, as if that somehow justifies beating another individual into a bloody pulp.
Of course, it’s an exaggeration of the sort of values espoused by Gene Roddenberry’s idealised futuristic humans, but not by much. The Federation presented in the Dominion fantasy is a slightly warped version of the institution that we know and love, but not too radically different. After all, it’s telling that Sisko never once suspects that this scenario is a fake. None of the actions taken by holo!Eddington or holo!Nechayev are completely out of character.
Indeed, holo!Nechayev seems quite consistent with her real self. Admiral Nechayez is a recurring guest character defined by her Betham-esque utilitarian philosophy – “the greatest good for the greatest number.” In Descent, Part I, Nechayev is perfectly willing to sanction the genocide of the Borg in order to secure the Federation’s security. In Chain of Command, Part II, she is perfectly willing to sacrifice Captain Picard for the greater good. In The Maquis, Part II, she refuses to allow the settlers to derail the peace with the Cardassians.
So her actions here are only slightly exaggerated. “Commander, if this treaty is signed, and I’m confident it will be, we’ll never have to worry about the Romulans again,” she assures Sisko. “After all, what chance would they have against the combined power of our new alliance?” Again, Nechayev is defined as a pragmatist. “Believe me, Commander, the Federation carefully weighed all the options before entering into these peace talks.”
There’s a sense of Deep Space Nine‘s critical views on the Federation shining through again. Sisko finds the Federation’s capitulation and appeasement quite believable. He has evolved quite a bit from the relative straight-arrow who first arrived on the station. Instead, he has learned that the reality of large-scale political government means that tough decisions have to be made – and that not everybody can be insulated and protected.
In essence, this is the strongest part of The Search, Part II. It’s an episode that really underscores the idea that Dominion are an adversary that cannot be overcome with charm and good will. Starfleet’s standard operating practise simply won’t work against them. More than that, the Federation’s willingness to make concessions will only make the Dominion bolder and more aggressive. This is the point at which the Dominion War becomes an inevitability, even if it is two seasons away.
That, in effect, is the weakest part of the episode. For all that the status quo has changed, there’s a sense that the writers have no idea where they want to go with this. Despite this big bold opening to the year, only a handful of the season’s episodes are actually concerned with the Dominion’s plans for the Alpha Quadrant. There’s Improbable Cause and The Die is Cast later in the season, and The Adversary closing out the year. There are a few more episodes about how Alpha Quadrant politics are affected by the Dominion’s existence, but the show’s third year never seems too bothered by the implications of The Search.
This is evident in two of the three major recurring characters introduced in the episode. The Female Changeling would become an important part of the mythos, even if she only appeared in one more episode this season. However, T’Rul and Eddington, both dramatically introduced in the same scene of the season premiere, don’t go anywhere particularly fast. It took the writing team over a year to figure out what to do with Eddington as a character, literally until his defining moment in For the Cause. Still, at least Eddington reappeared and eventually got some development.
Romulan liaison T’Rul is introduced and then quickly forgotten about. Nobody seems too bothered about having a Romulan about, and she’s never even mentioned in episodes where you imagine that it might be relevant. It’s a shame, because adding a Romulan officer to the station’s supporting staff has potential. Certainly the big Romulan plots in Visionary, Shadows and Symbols and even Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges might work better if there were an established recurring Romulan character to anchor them.
As such, T’Rul is a bit of a wasted opportunity, much like a lot of the Romulan plots on Deep Space Nine. Much like on the other spin-offs, the Romulans remained one of the least-developed races in the franchise. T’Rul’s storytelling potential, and the decision to simply drop her character from the show, is a very effective microcosm of some of the issues that Deep Space Nine had during its third season – a sense of what it wanted to do and where it wanted to go, but no real idea yet on how to get there. The show would take a year to really figure it out properly. Still, Martha Hackett would land a recurring part on Star Trek: Voyager.
There’s also a sense that the writers haven’t quite figured out the Vorta yet. There’s a decidedly rough quality to Borath here, and Ira Steven Behr confesses that the Vorta were still in flux at this point in the run:
So we had an idea of what the three groups were going to be. Though they changed. Certainly, the Vorta changed. They were meant to be these Brian Dennehy types, these big rugged space traders. Mistakes were made, what can I tell you? But it’s a process.
The show would have trouble with its Vorta characters up until it had the good fortune to cast Jeffrey Combs in To the Death during the fourth season. At that point, the notion of the Vorta as a species of negotiators and manipulators really clicked. Combs was so effective that they hastily re-defined the species in order to allow them to keep using him.
Oddly enough, To the Death represents the next appearance of a Vorta character – which gives a sense of the difficulty that Deep Space Nine had pacing its Dominion arc. That’s a staggeringly long gap between the appearances of an iconic new species, and it seems like the show hadn’t worked out exactly what it wanted to do them. Veteran performer Dennis Christopher is a big enough name (a former Golden Globe nominee earning the coveted “and…” credit) that you assume the production staff might have been fishing for a potential recurring guest star.
And Christopher isn’t bad. You can see what he’s trying to do with Borath, even if the script is never entirely clear on what this Vorta is supposed to be. Christopher plays him as something of a mad scientist, running all these unethical experiments in the basement of his parents’ house. When Kira and Odo arrive, he’s not really too concerned about the consequences. “Please,” he urges, checking his read-outs, “come in.”
Christopher gives the impression of Borath as a maladjusted number-cruncher. He’s essentially Dominion middle-management, banality of evil. When Odo protests about the treatment of the Defiant crew, Borath responds, “Well, that is a problem. But thankfully, it’s not one I have to solve.” They probably have a Vorta for that somewhere. He’s pretty far from the smooth-talking paradigm that Jeffrey Combs would present.
Indeed, Christopher plays the holo!Borath as a bit of a power-tripping jerk – giving the impression that Borath really doesn’t get out of the lab too much and he’s enjoying the chance to play the role of a “Founder.” In effect, he’s getting a chance to play a role much more important than his true station. When Sisko realises how bad things have become, he practical gloats. “It’s the beginning of a new era, Commander, and you helped make it possible. Congratulations.”
The final interesting aspect of The Search is the revelation that Odo’s people are the Founders. According to Michael Piller, this was an idea that came to the production staff simultaneously. He recalls pitching the idea to the staff:
What if the Founders – what if, at the end of this journey – those are Odo’s people? They laughed and Ira laughed. He said, “We’ve been talking about that amongst ourselves. We never thought you’d ever buy that.” So, ultimately, that’s what it turned out to be.
It’s a rather brilliant twist, if only because it makes a great deal of logical plot sense. There must have been a temptation to draw out the mystery of Odo’s origins longer, but actually allowing Odo to find his own people offers more storytelling opportunities.
It allows Odo’s story to really move forward, which is one of the more unique aspect of Deep Space Nine. Data could never really move towards becoming human on The Next Generation, because there was this incredibly strong urge to keep him static and to maintain the status quo. The revelation that Odo is a Founder of the Dominion changes absolutely everything about the character, about how we see him and how he sees himself. It’s a brilliant way to make the character even more interesting.
The Founders are an intriguing race of themselves, because they are a truly alien entity. “The Great Link” is a fantastic concept, and one that Deep Space Nine wisely leaves ambiguous. Can there really be any individual Changelings? Or at they all just parts of the same gigantic whole? Is the Female Shapeshifter we see throughout the show’s run really the came character? Is the Great Link a merging of individual minds, or one collective consciousness even more perfectly linked than that of the Borg?
The show never really answers any of these questions, but they are fun to play with. The Founders would arguably end up the least developed of the three major Dominion races, but it is interesting how the Dominion wound up constructed to mirror the most iconic Star Trek races. The Vorta are dark mirrors to the Vulcans – far from coldly logical, they are shrewdly manipulative; they also have pointed ears and low-level telekinetic powers. The Jem’Hadar are very much Klingons.
That means that the Changelings must be humans. Which makes sense. Star Trek has always argued that mankind’s defining trait is its adaptability – the capacity of people to change and evolve over time, moving past our limitations and reshaping our culture and society completely. The Founders are a clever inversion. Their forms are infinitely flexible, but their philosophy is rigid and unchanging. They can become anything they want, but are unwilling to change.
The Search, Part II ushers in a new era for Deep Space Nine. It’s just a shame the show waits so long to take advantage of it.
You might be interested in our reviews of the third season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
- The Search, Part I
- The Search, Part II
- House of Quark
- Second Skin
- Supplemental: Fearful Symmetry by Olivia Woods
Filed under: Deep Space Nine | Tagged: changelings, compromise, deep space nine, Dominion, ds9, Federation, founders, Jem'Hadar, pacifism, star trek, star trek: deep space nine, the dominion, the search, utopia, vorta |