the story: Martial law has been declared, and everyone's a potential shape-shifter...
what it's all about: "Homefront"/"Paradise Lost" was supposed to a cliffhanger/season premiere straddling the third and fourth seasons, originally. This would explain why the basic premise of "The Adversary," which ended up being the third season finale (as a standalone story) is similar to what was postponed in favor of the Klingon reboot "Way of the Warrior" that opened the fourth season instead. And yet, "Adversary" doesn't really prepare you for what "Homefront"/"Paradise Lost" accomplish once they finally happen.
The recap at the start of "Paradise Lost" includes the crucial scene from "Homefront" where Joseph Sisko angrily rejects the notion that he needs to prove he's human. I already discussed in my "Homefront" review how crucial Joseph, as Sisko's father, is as a general addition to both the series and franchise (as a main character's parent, he's really second only to Sarek in importance), but he's also absolutely critical to understanding how well this particular story works, because he's a running commentary on his son's doubts and the ultimate resolution of the crisis.
Sisko's conversation with a Founder (a shape-shifter; a changeling; Odo's people, although strangely this is a story that involves him but not in the way they usually do, as more observer than participant), in the guise of O'Brien, is one of the more chilling scenes of the whole franchise (sort of like Voyager's "In the Flesh," in which Starfleet Headquarters is recreated by Species 8472, complete with the perennially disarming groundskeeper Boothby). This sequence alone justifies the two-part story.
There's a subplot in both episodes involving Nog's early days at Starfleet Academy, which in "Paradise Lost" becomes a little like the Deep Space Nine version of Next Generation's "The First Duty." But this is among the material that really only pads out the relevant stuff, which again mostly focuses on Sisko, his dad, and that scene with the bogus O'Brien.
Because this is ultimately an allegory for the Red Scare, the period of the early Cold War when Americans were being summoned to the House Un-American hearings to prove whether or not they'd ever had communist sympathies. In more recent times, the Department of Homeland Security that was created post-9/11 and the fears that Trump intends to in effect reintroduce the Red Scare concept to combat terrorism (also of note: Japanese internment camps during WWII, of which Sulu actor George Takei has eloquently given testimony to). All of this symptomatic of a state of paranoia, and the excessive responses that can arise from it; that's what "Homefront"/"Paradise Lost" are all about, what Sisko and his dad spend so much time talking about.
Surprisingly, this is a concept that was dropped from the further Dominion arc (with a few exceptions, such as finding out about the Martok and Bashir doppelgangers; in a lot of ways Ron Moore essentially took this as his main premise on the Battlestar Galactica reboot), with the shape-shifters over time being reduced to conversations between Odo and the Female Founder. So this is a more crucial moment than it might have originally seemed, both as more relevant than ever after 9/11, and for everything that didn't happen later in the series. Clearly it was something that needed to be done, and it's actually probably a good thing that it happened before the war actually began, which also lends it further significance, as a commentary on how wars happen to begin with, not so much the obvious provocations, but the fears that build up on both sides.
- franchise - A Cold War allegory for a concept originally conceived at the height of the Cold War.
- series - Crucial to the Dominion arc.
- character - This remains a Sisko spotlight.
- essential - It's far more significant in hindsight that it might have seemed when originally broadcast.
Brock Peters (Joseph Sisko)
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)