the story: A Bajoran religious leader tries to convince Sisko that an ancient prophecy is about to be fulfilled.
what it's all about: Unlike "Life Support" a few episodes earlier, "Destiny" strikes a fine balance in its exploration of continued Bajoran/Cardassian relations, mostly because there the Bajoran element centers around Sisko while the Cardassian element features O'Brien or further inter-Cardassian intrigue.
The intrigue is the lighted material, actually, so let's treat that first: Like a lot of spy-based storytelling in the franchise, and with the considerable ramp-up of Cardassian spy storytelling this season, there's plenty of suspicion cast about, but where "Destiny" earns points is by refusing the harsher tones typical for these scenarios.
So let's move on to juicier stuff. There are a number of Cardassian scientists running amok in the episode, which in and of itself is a nice change of pace (like Next Generation's "Suspicions," which featured a Ferengi scientist; you just don't tend to think of these aliens in such roles). The whole third season had a thread woven through it trying to soften the image of the Cardassians, and other than the increased profile of Dukat, "Destiny" best represents that thread. O'Brien develops an unlikely rapport with one of the scientists, leading to an amusing clash of cultures when he becomes convinced she has the hots for him. For a character like O'Brien, who in Next Generation's "The Wounded" was given a background of animosity against Cardassians from war-time experience, this is a welcome light treatment of the kind of depth the series was known for.
But the meat and crux of the episode belongs to Sisko, who's given one of his rare opportunities to stare that vexing declaration from the first episode - he's the "Emissary of the Prophets" - in the face. An overzealous Bajoran badgers him throughout the episode concerning what he should be doing, which is tough enough for a Starfleet officer, I'm sure, but moreso when you're a Starfleet officer who's been deemed a religious figure and you still haven't figured out what that even means. This was an element of the character that had never really gelled before, but "Destiny" goes a long way in explaining it, and how it continues to affect Sisko, without asking anything more from him, this time, than grappling with its religious overtones. But the big payoff, which is rare for material like this, is at the very end of the episode, when the Bajoran, having realized he was wrong, proceeds to rattle off more prophecies...Deep Space Nine was surprisingly good for tossed-off punchlines like that, very much in the spirit of how the original series would conclude on some jab between Bones and Spock.
franchise- This one's really for series fans.
- series - An amusing look at ongoing concerns.
- character - Sisko's enigmatic religious significance returns to the spotlight.
- essential - This is an early look at the more lighthearted side of the series.