the story: Odo learns who and what his people the Founders really are, while Sisko experiences what a Federation/Dominion alliance would look like.
what it's all about: "The Search, Part 2" is part deconstruction (the station crew and mission are dissected piece by piece) and character study (Odo discovers for the first time the true joy of being a shapeshifter), and it works brilliantly.
As a continuation of its predecessor, the episode is a lot like "The Best of Both Worlds," the iconic Next Generation two-part thriller involving the showdown with the Borg: the second half of the story explores an unexpected way to conclude something sensational. Part of it might be easy to dismiss in hindsight as a "reset button," because the Federation/Dominion alliance doesn't really happen in anything other than the minds of Sisko and his command crew, but evokes real emotion, the most emotion Sisko has exhibited all series. It's downright spine-tingling when he unloads on Admiral Nechayev on his feelings about what's been happening, a stark contrast to the vaguely unsettling tension he showed toward Picard in the first episode of the series, "Emissary."
It's worth noting that for as many appearances as she made across Deep Space Nine and Next Generation, Nechayev never has a better showing than in "The Search, Part 2." She was always a proud member of the Bad Admirals club, which Deep Space Nine would finally break with Admiral Ross later in the series, but this whole scenario is a perfect representation of the compromised, almost political nature of the rank, and why it so often produced this type of character. It doesn't hurt that Natalija Nogulich always seemed so deliciously pleased with herself playing Nechayev, which itself kind of informs the later recurring character of Weyoun, and not to mention Dukat.
But the biggest news of the episode is that not only has Odo finally found home, but his people are the bad guys! He and Kira (and as of this episode they're officially on their way to becoming a romantic couple) have a hard time reconciling his elation with the realities of the situation, but in the end, it is what it is, and the Founders are in fact the leaders of the Dominion, which will put Odo in a lot of compromising situations as the series progresses.
It's almost easy to overlook how important this development is, because it's by far the less sensational, and in fact almost numbingly mundane, half of the episode, but for those keeping score, it's ultimately hard to ignore.
The whole thing is what the remainder of the series looks like in a nutshell.
- franchise - This is what it looks like when a story comes together in Star Trek.
- series - This is what the Dominion in its totality looks like.
- character - Whether Odo, Kira, Sisko, or even Nechayev, this episode's got them all covered.
- essential - Do you really need to ask?
Salome Jens (Female Shapeshifter)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Ken Marshall (Eddington)
Natalija Nogulich (Nechayev)