the story: Lwaxana Troi's visit unleashes a lot of awkward romantic confessions...
what it's all about: "Fascination" is one of those episodes that could have been a disaster. If it had been done in the first season, it would have been a disaster. In fact, it looks almost exactly like a first season episode, except the third season saw such an advanced understanding of the series, this would have been very hard to accomplish. So while it's something of a farce, "Fascination" also happens to have the distinction of being grounded thoroughly in the lore of Deep Space Nine, with a lot of interesting and fruitful observations to make.
The presence of Lwaxana is itself a notable aspect of the episode, even though it serves in that regard as somewhat trivial compared to the two other episodes of this series she appears in ("The Forsaken" and "The Muse"), she at least helps Odo realize that he has feelings for Kira, which is crucial to the whole series arc for both of them. For the rest of the episode, Lwaxana is a glorified McGuffin, the magical reason why everyone's acting strangely.
So let's put her aside. There's also Bareil, the normally stuffy, repressed Bajoran love interest of Kira, who joins everyone else in the complicated tangle mentioned in the story summary above. But it gets better! There's Jake Sisko admitting he loves Kira, which is one of the most hilarious things the series ever did, and because this is how complicated things get, Kira's too busy kissing Bashir to really notice (Alexander Siddig and Nana Visitor were married for a time after this; must have been terrible days on set!). And so on.
But the real meat of the episode, it turns out, is O'Brien and Keiko continuing to hash out the status of their relationship, which was a recurring element of the season. While everyone else is worried about whether or not they're being honest, these two are agonizing over very real concerns, and it grounds the whole thing nicely. That and a look at Bajorans celebrating one of their favorite holidays, one of the few times a holiday is celebrated at all in Star Trek lore.
"Fascination" is indeed fascinating.
- franchise - This one looks like a typical anything goes farce you'll find elsewhere.
- series - But it's another one perfectly grounded in Deep Space Nine logic.
- character - Good character work all around, especially for the O'Briens.
essential- I'll stop short of calling it a classic, because it points more than it leads.
Majel Roddenberry (Lwaxana Troi)
Philip Anglim (Bareil)
Rosalind Chao (Keiko)
Hana Hatae (Molly)