the story: Kira is replaced in her position aboard the station, so she decides to go to Bajor and see if there's anything interesting happening there.
what it's all about: This second chapter in the opening trilogy (trilogies were a big thing in Enterprise's final season, but arcs tended to go longer after this initial extended effort) of the season sounds a little flippant in that description above, doesn't it? That's probably because "The Circle" might be considered filler. But really, it's just Deep Space Nine testing the waters of serialized storytelling, which it really wouldn't try again (as opposed to heavily-interrelated storytelling, which began in the first season and continued steadily throughout the series) until its final seasons.
What "Circle" has going for it is a further exploration of Bajoran life and politics. As such, we again meet two crucial Bajorans, Vedek Winn (later to be better known as Kai Winn, a position she parlayed from being analogous to the Catholic pope to being prime minister as well) and Vedek Bareil (Kira's love interest for the first three seasons), as well as enjoy the continued killer uncredited appearances of Frank Langella (that's probably the biggest selling point of this whole trilogy right there) as the main villain, the secret conspiracy leader who's about to play his hand and/or be exposed. We'd met Winn and Bareil last season ("In the Hands of the Prophets"), and so seeing them again was a sign that this was indeed going to be a series where seeing familiar faces would take far less time than in Treks past, as the whole premise of a station-bound series had always promised but to this point seldom delivered.
Winn ended up becoming a crucial recurring character throughout the series, and so each and every early appearance is important in seeing how she developed into the monster fans best remember her as, a crass opportunist for whom events like this were made. If you want to view the trilogy, and this second act, as important for any other reason than putting Kira in the spotlight and trying to make the most of Bajoran drama, then this is how to do it. Her absence from the previous "Homecoming" installment seems odd in hindsight. Actually, if you like Star Wars and don't mind comparisons from the prequels, watching Winn in these moments is like seeing Palpatine blatantly manipulate everyone before he completes his transformation into the Emperor, hiding in plain sight.
The scenes with the hero from "Homecoming" are almost meaningless by comparison. I remember the character's name (Li Nalas) perfectly well enough, and apparently the actor, Richard Beymer, was in West Side Story (the creators of this series loved vintage Hollywood, as you'll see later in the season), but he leaves no real impression in the series, which was otherwise gifted with an abundance of memorable characters. That will always be a drawback of this ambitious early arc-heavy effort.
franchise- This one's pretty series-specific.
- series - See above.
- character - Come to see Kira, stay for Winn.
- essential - It's actually pretty important to where Winn ends up later in the series.
Louise Fletcher (Winn)
Philip Anglim (Bareil)