the story: Sisko takes his son, Quark, and Nog on a trip to the Gamma Quadrant, and they end up regretting it considerably, thanks to the formal introduction of the Dominion.
what it's all about: It's amazing how quickly the series ended up finding out what it was finally going to be like moving forward, after a lot of false starts and formative material that never quite seemed to lived up to potential. It's highly appropriate that this happens in a Quark episode, MVP of the second season, that also involves Sisko, who as of "The Jem'Hadar" had definitively found his place not only in series lore but for the franchise as well.
Simply put, and this is incredibly easy to say in hindsight, but the Dominion arc ended up defining Deep Space Nine. Over the course of the next five seasons, tensions rose to all-out war that enveloped the final two seasons of the series. All that begins with the introductions of not only the eponymous shock troops of the Dominion, but the continually enigmatic (a trademark characteristic of the series) Vorta as well.
Naturally, the Jem'Hadar make the more dramatic debut, ostensibly as the Deep Space Nine answer to the most sensational new threat of its Next Generation predecessor, the Borg. A Jem'Hadar ship, pointedly, takes out a Starfleet vessel the same class as the Enterprise-D with almost ridiculous (if suicidal) ease. You'd have to wait until the terrorism of Enterprise's "The Expanse" to see something like that again.
But what exactly the level of threat the Dominion poses would have to wait until later. Instead, the episode revels in the contrast between Sisko and Quark, who couldn't possibly be greater polar opposites (another series trademark, which Quark also shares with Odo). Both have an unerring sense of duty, but the ways they exhibit themselves, again, couldn't be more different, so naturally it falls to another generation to help them find common ground. It's the rare reminder, post-first season, that Jake and Nog still matter in this series, in ways that would push both of them in surprising new directions, which like the other events of this episode begin to come to a head in the following season.
All this might seem insignificant compared to what it leads to, but "Jem'Hadar" is a great reminder that big things start small. The Gamma Quadrant had existed in series lore since the start, but it wasn't until this episode where it truly begins to matter, after all.
Which, again, is a polar opposite in and of itself, too. The season began with an ambitious attempt to turn around the Bajoran side of the series premise into something that could truly be reckoned with. And yet, the season ends with something new that lands with a definite, immediate impact, all in the course of a single episode, which actually teases far more than it reveals. For fans who think Deep Space Nine worked best in its serialized storytelling, it's a refreshing reminder that one story really can make all the difference.
- franchise - The Dominion instantly becomes one of the defining villains in all of Star Trek.
- series - It also instantly becomes a cornerstone of Deep Space Nine.
- character - All while keeping a tight focus on Sisko and Quark as everyday people.
- essential - Any of that means this is a classic, folks.
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)