the story: Sisko faces a difficult predicament when he and his crew are marooned on the same planet as a contingent of the Dominion, and they're forced to confront the intricacies of the enemy.
what it's all about: First - a litany of episodes, from this series alone, where things are relatively comparable:
"...Nor the Battle to the Strong," "The Ship," "The Siege of AR-558," all dealing with the realities of war. This is the one that takes place during the initial six-episode arc of the Dominion War. "Ship" is the most comparable in that it also deals with the Dominion specifically (and even features the origin of the ship Sisko and crew crash on the planet here). But the episode that most comes to mind is actually "Hippocratic Oath," in which Bashir is forced to try and come up with a cure for the chemical addiction the Founders engineered into the Jem'Hadar. That's an episode I felt worked somewhat horribly. The good doctor is called upon to work on the same problem in "Rocks and Shoals," and once again ("To the Death" is another good example) the viewer is asked to take the Jem'Hadar as something other than the enemy, more akin to the nuanced Klingons as they came to be known over the years.
And that's really the story of the episode, a last redemptive look at the foot soldiers of the Dominion, and the complicated nature of "the enemy." (A b-story has Kira revisiting the thought process she had during the Occupation, and how it compares to life under Dominion rule aboard the station, and so complements the material well.) There was never a recurring Jem'Hadar character in the series; every episode featured a new one, and so they have the somewhat unique distinction in Deep Space Nine as addressing a species rather than individuals, of whom there were representatives clamoring for respect of just about every iteration, and so illustrate the need to look beyond familiarity even when that seems the only way to make progress. "Rocks" in fact makes that case most clearly.
For that reason it's possibly the easiest Dominion War episode to recommend to viewers leery of the bulk of the material to see what the series was saying about war, the nature of the enemy, when it might have seemed the war arc glorified or even glamorized something the franchise otherwise tended to condemn. There are plenty of "stuck with the enemy" episodes across Star Trek where the context is entirely contained in the one story. This is a great example of seeing that same message put into context.
- franchise - A good example of Deep Space Nine making a classic Star Trek template its own.
- series - A good example of the best Dominion War storytelling.
- character - Kira gets the nod here for her personal breakthrough.
- essential - All of it combines nicely for a transcendent experience.
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
Andrew Robinson (Garak)