the story: Sisko leads a risky mission while Odo and the others still at the station adjust to life under the Dominion.
what it's all about: The thing that made Deep Space Nine great is also what made it hard to penetrate among more casual Star Trek fans. Case in point: "A Time to Stand," the first episode of the Dominion War (after a setup in "A Call to Arms" at the end of the previous season), immerses itself directly in the minutiae of series continuity.
Like Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek Into Darkness, it features a ship you kind of need to know how it ended up in the hands of Starfleet (Voyage Home had The Search for Spock; Into Darkness makes a vague and somewhat unsatisfying reference to Harry Mudd). This is a Return of the Jedi scenario; where the Rebels somehow acquired an Imperial shuttle, Sisko has a Jem'Hadar ship on his hands. Of course, series fans know the ship was confiscated memorably in "The Ship" (appropriately enough) last season, but it'll just seem convenient to anyone just popping in, whether or not they have any knowledge about the prior episode.
It's admittedly cool to see Sisko and crew (including Garak, playing a new role in the series as someone who gets to actively participate in the adventures of the good guys) operate inside a Jem'Hadar ship, as they figure out how, but it also seems like if it's a season premiere, these guys ought to be in the Defiant, something iconic to the series. Enterprise later had the same problem with its third season premiere, setting up the regular threat of the Xindi in an episode called "The Xindi," in which Archer and company spend time...in a garbage dump. Sometimes the glamour and romance of a situation is essential to selling it properly.
The episode drops viewers in the middle of a seemingly hopeless war with a mission that's supposed to turn things around; it's not exactly the message that will sell the concept. By the end of the initial six-episode arc opening the season, the real objective to begin the war becomes reclaiming the station, as was hinted at in "Arms," and seems pretty obvious for a series named after the station at its heart. It's a slight creative misstep to ignore that in a season premiere.
But the station does appear in the episode, of course, with all the characters who are still there, including Odo, who thanks to a little prodding from Kira manipulates himself into a major player among their new Dominion hosts. Somewhat more interesting and relevant to viewers from 2017 is Jake's problem of getting all his articles for the Federation news service blocked by Weyoun "because they betray a bias against the Dominion." Well, of course they do. Weyoun's actions amount to censorship, which is something Donald Trump flirts with now, or so his detractors fear.
Funny how something produced two decades ago gains new relevance...
franchise- An episode that curiously lacks awareness that general viewers might exist.
- series - Nonetheless hugely important as it sets up the new status quo of the initial Dominion War six-episode opening arc.
- character - You'll notice some names in the guest star credits who are making their debuts (or debuting on a more permanent basis than previous), but will appear often in future episodes.
- essential - Key to an understanding of what Deep Space Nine set out to accomplish.
Andrew Robinson (Garak)
Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun)
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Aron Eisnberg (Nog)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Casey Biggs (Damar)
Barry Jenner (Admiral Ross)
Brock Peters (Joseph Sisko)