the story: Sisko introduces everyone to the Defiant, a powerful new Starfleet warship he's taking into the Gamma Quadrant to confront the Dominion.
what it's all about: What always set Deep Space Nine apart was that it was, well, set aboard a space station. Did that really change in the third season with the introduction of the Defiant? Well, no. Occasionally it would be used to tell more traditional Star Trek stories, but for the most part it remained an extension of the station dynamic. But it was by its very nature a clear signal that this was a series that wouldn't outright condemn war so much as explore its many facets.
It was also a kind of redefining of Sisko himself, who proudly announces his role in its development, and that he'll be its commanding officer (he wouldn't gain the rank of captain until the end of the season). This whole episode begins the third season's strong characterization of Sisko, which was the series' best characterization of him to that point, and arguably from its whole run. Sisko first appeared as a broken, lost man, and while accepting the space station assignment gave him new purpose, it didn't really fix him. He and son Jake acknowledge that they've now found themselves a home, in the episode. Sisko had purpose before, but now he has a reason to live.
But others are less happy about what's been happening. Odo, for instance. "The Search, Part 1" is also the first appearance of Michael Eddington, a seemingly minor and yet increasingly significant character in the middle portion of the series. At first he's important because to Odo it's Starfleet's ultimate rebuke of his role as the lawman of the station. This was something that bubbled up in the previous two seasons, but comes to a dramatic head with Eddington. Odo doesn't particularly care about Eddington himself (he ends up working alongside him just fine) so much as the fact that once again he's being forced to confront his status as the unwanted "other." Which leads him, unexpectedly, not only to resign but show up to take part in the expedition, because he once and for all is convinced that his origins, another long-teased development, really do lie in the Gamma Quadrant.
By the end of the episode, the mission has turned into a disaster, but Odo has discovered exactly what he sought: the Founders, and the forever-unnamed Female Shapeshifter who is destined to change the course of his life forever...
Unlike how the previous season began, with that historic three-part episode that ran out of steam and authentic developments well before its conclusion, "The Search" packs a strong one-two punch, with a strong beginning (here) and conclusion (next episode). Both halves are distinct in and of themselves, although of course inextricably linked. They both focus on Sisko and Odo, besides, setting them up one moment and knocking them down the next, to remarkable effect. What was previously reserved for strong episodes was now beginning to settle on strong characterization.
Given how big the Dominion story ultimately became, it might be tempting to dismiss how it began and increasingly irrelevant. But that would be a mistake.
- franchise - Seldom has storytelling been this forceful and assured in Star Trek.
- series - Iconic elements are falling into place at last.
- character - Sisko and Odo are front and center.
- essential - And having some of their best-ever material.
Salome Jens (Female Shapeshifter)
Ken Marshall (Eddington)